No. 17 Iowa’s rally deals Huskers another heartbreaking loss

Dylan Widger-USA TODAY Sports
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LINCOLN, Neb. – Spencer Petras‘s 2-yard touchdown run with 2:58 left gave 17th-ranked Iowa its first lead, and the Hawkeyes came back from a 15-point deficit in the third quarter to beat Nebraska 28-21 on Friday.

Iowa won the border battle for the seventh straight year, but not before Jermari Harris intercepted Logan Smothers‘ pass at the Iowa 2 with 43 seconds to play.

The Hawkeyes (10-2, 7-2) stayed alive in the Big Ten West race and now need Minnesota to beat Wisconsin on Saturday to go to the conference championship game next week in Indianapolis.

The loss was another gut punch to Nebraska (3-9, 1-8) in its worst season since 1957. The Cornhuskers, who won’t go to a bowl for a fifth straight year, finished with losses in six straight games and eight of nine. Their nine losses were by a total of 56 points.

Tyler Goodson ran for 156 yards on 23 carries to become Iowa’s first 1,000-yard rusher since Akrum Wadley in 2017.

Smothers, making his first start in place of the injured Adrian Martinez, threw for 199 yards and ran 24 times for 64 yards and two touchdowns.

Iowa used a blocked punt returned for a touchdown, two field goals and a safety to wipe out a 21-6 deficit and tie it 21-21 with 7:21 left.

Nebraska had looked ready to get its breakthrough win when Goodson fumbled at the Huskers’ 6 and Smothers, making his first start in place of the injured Adrian Martinez, led them 94 yards in six plays for a double-digit lead.

But Iowa, with the Big Ten’s least productive offense, was able to turn to its defense and special teams to pull this one out.

Iowa pulled to 21-16 early in the fourth when Joe Evans blocked William Przystup‘s punt and Kyler Fisher grabbed it and ran it 14 yards for a touchdown.

On Nebraska’s next series, Smothers fumbled and Iowa’s Logan Lee recovered at the Hawkeyes’ 46. The Huskers forced a three-and-out, but Tory Taylor’s punt pinned them at their 7. Smothers, under pressure, made a desperation throw from his end zone and was called for intentional grounding, resulting in a safety.

Petras, who replaced Alex Padilla to start the second half, got the Hawkeyes to the Nebraska 26 on their ensuing series and Caleb Shudak kicked his fourth field goal of the game from 44 yards to tie it.

The Hawkeyes forced a punt, and Goodson broke a 55-yard run before Petras scored the go-ahead touchdown.

THE TAKEAWAY

Iowa: The Hawkeyes, for all their limitations on offense, were able to overcome a two-score deficit for the second time this season. The first was at home against Penn State.

Nebraska: The Huskers once again couldn’t put away an opponent and finished a season with nine losses for only the second time in program history. Frost is now 0-13 against ranked opponents, and the Huskers have dropped 17 in a row against the Top 25 since 2016.

UP NEXT

Iowa: Big Ten championship game on Dec. 4 if Minnesota beats Wisconsin on Saturday. Otherwise, it’s time to prepare for a bowl.

Nebraska plays Northwestern in Dublin, Ireland, on Aug. 27.

Watson, Troy win Sun Belt title over Coastal Carolina, 45-26

Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports
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TROY, Ala. – Gunnar Watson and the streaking Troy Trojans came out with a flurry of big plays and a defense that was barely budging.

Watson passed for 318 yards and three long touchdowns to lead the Trojans to a 45-26 victory – their 10th straight – over Coastal Carolina in the Sun Belt Conference championship game on Saturday.

“It seemed like everything was going right for us,” Watson said.

The early domination didn’t last, but it was enough.

The Trojans (11-2) raced ahead 31-0 and with a 316-22 advantage in total yards en route to their Sun Belt-record seventh league title. Coach Jon Sumrall‘s first season began 1-2, with one loss on a Hail Mary pass, and ended with fans celebrating Troy’s first Sun Belt title since 2017 by storming the field and bringing down a goal post.

A group of students carried part of the goal post out of the stadium to the parking lot. It ended up in a nearby fountain.

“That probably will be one of the coolest memories I’ll ever have here,” Troy linebacker KJ Robertson said. “That was awesome for me. I don’t know how they’re paying for that.”

By the time three-time Sun Belt player of the year Grayson McCall got the offense going for Coastal Carolina (9-3), it was all but over. McCall started at quarterback after missing the past two games with a foot injury.

“They came out and really took it to us from the opening drive and we could not respond at all there in the first half,” said Chanticleers coach Jamey Chadwell. “I was proud of our team trying to come back in the second half. I thought we showed a lot of effort and fight.”

Watson completed 12 of 17 passes, including touchdowns of 67 yards and 36 yards to Rajae’ Johnson and a 65-yarder to Deshon Stoudemire. Watson was hit as he was throwing the 67-yarder with Johnson stretching out to grab it.

Johnson then snagged the ball one-handed to answer the Chanticleers’ second touchdown.

“I saw the replay and I was like, `Holy crap,”‘ Watson said.

DK Billingsley ran for three touchdowns, including a 33-yarder, for the Trojans.

Troy, which was coming off three straight five-win seasons, hasn’t lost since that Appalachian State Hail Mary on Sept. 17. Sumrall & Co. left the field in a much better mood this time.

“That was as good of a feeling as I’ve ever had after a game,” he said. “These kids have worked so hard and they’ve done so much and they’ve been through a lot.”

McCall overcame a rough start to complete 29 of 41 passes for 319 yards and three touchdowns with a late interception. He also ran for an 8-yard touchdown.

McCall led touchdown drives heading into and coming out of halftime. He said his status was a gametime decision.

“I felt good in warmups so I told coach I was good to go,” McCall said.

The momentum didn’t last.

T.J. Jackson then had a strip sack and fumble recovery inside Coastal Carolina’s 10 to set up a touchdown.

The stats evened out but the score never got too uncomfortable for Troy. Coastal Carolina actually ended with a 432-411 edge in total yards.

Coastal Carolina has lost two straight lopsided games, including a 47-7 defeat to James Madison amid speculation about Chadwell’s future. He said he has spoken to Liberty about replacing coach Hugh Freeze but “I have not signed anything with them or anything of that nature.”

TAKEAWAY

Coastal Carolina: McCall and the offense took too long to get going for the Chanticleers to have a chance, but the defense struggled to bring down both Troy’s running backs and receivers in the first half. Still, the Chanticleers have won 31 games over the last three seasons.

Troy: Might have earned its second Top 25 ranking and first since 2016. The Trojans have their longest win streak since winning 11 in a row in 1995. Their six Sun Belt titles had been tied with Arkansas State.

SLOW DRIVE

The fumble recovery set up a drive that didn’t go far but took nearly four minutes. Troy finally scored after the eight-play, 7-yard drive was kept alive by a personal foul on a field goal.

UP NEXT

Both teams await their bowl destinations.

Finn, Stuart lead Toledo to first MAC title since 2017

Lon Horwedel-USA TODAY Sports
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DETROIT – Dequan Finn passed for a touchdown and rushed for 86 yards on 18 carries as Toledo captured its first Mid-American Conference championship since 2017 by defeating Ohio 17-7 on Saturday afternoon.

Finn completed 16 of 25 passes for 154 yards. Jacquez Stuart rushed for 93 yards on nine carries, including a 29-yard touchdown. Micah Kelly added 53 rushing yards for the Rockets (8-5), who lost their last two conference games.

“We’ve been through a lot the whole year,” Finn said. “It’s been a rollercoaster for us. Up and down, fought through adversity and had some rough patches. But ultimately, we stayed together as one.”

Toledo is headed to a bowl game but since the MAC doesn’t have a postseason pecking order, its destination is unknown. The Arizona, Idaho Potato and Quick Lane bowls — the latter also at Detroit’s Ford Field — are the most likely possibilities.

“This is everybody’s goal,” Toledo coach Jason Candle said of the conference championship. “This is what everybody wants to do. This is where everybody says they’re going to be. It’s one thing to get there. It’s another to win it.”

Sieh Bangura rushed for 56 yards on 20 carries and the lone touchdown for the Bobcats (9-4), whose seven-game winning streak was snapped. CJ Harris completed 17 of 31 passes for 163 yards and was intercepted once.

Harris was making his second start since MAC Player of the Year Kurtis Rourke suffered a season-ending knee injury.

Ohio is 0-5 in the MAC title game.

“My heart hurts for our football team,” coach Tim Albin said. “This has been about our journey, not a destination. I boldly said on MAC (preseason) media day I thought we could make a championship run. That’s what we did and we came up short.”

The Rockets led 10-7 at halftime.

They drove 75 yards after the opening kickoff with Stuart scoring on his 29-yard run up the middle.

“Very efficient,” Candle said of first possession. “That kind of built some confidence to play efficient offense the rest of the way.”

Ohio tied it on Bangura’s 2-yard run midway through the second quarter, finishing off an 84-yard drive.

Toledo’s Thomas Cluckey kicked a 44-yard field goal with 16 seconds left in the half.

The Rockets drove to the Bobcats’ 10 midway through the third quarter but passed up a field goal attempt and turned the ball over on downs.

Finn’s 16-yard scoring pass to DeMeer Blankumsee completed a methodical 16-play, 90-yard drive that gave Toledo a 17-7 lead with 10:36 remaining.

Ohio was limited to 262 yards of total offense.

“Their front seven controlled it, particularly in the second half,” Albin said. “We had trouble running the ball in between the tackles and it made us one-dimensional.”

THE TAKEAWAY

Toledo is now 4-3 in the MAC title game, with its previous championships coming in 2001, ’04 and ’17. Ohio’s long drought without a conference championship continued. The Bobcats haven’t won a MAC championship since 1968.

UP NEXT

Both teams are headed to bowl games TBD on Sunday. Toledo is bowl eligible for the 13th straight season.