Tune’s TD throw completes Houston’s rally past Louisiana-Lafayette

Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports
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SHREVEPORT, La. – Clayton Tune connected with Nathaniel Dell for a 12-yard touchdown with 20 seconds remaining, and Houston rallied from a 13-point deficit to beat Louisiana-Lafayette 23-16 in the Independence Bowl.

The TD pass was Tune’s third of the game and 40th of the season, tying the senior with Western Kentucky’s Austin Reed for the most in the nation. Before the winning throw, he completed a 41-yard pass to KeSean Carter on first-and-30 to move Houston into Ragin’ Cajuns territory.

Dell, a junior who plans to enter the NFL draft, had two touchdown catches, pushing his total to a nation-best 17 this season.

The Cougars (8-5) never led until that late touchdown as Tune heated up amid unseasonably cold temperatures in northwest Louisiana. It was 25 degrees at kickoff, with a wind chill of 12 degrees.

“Today was like the rest of the year,” Houston coach Dana Holgorsen said. “The conditions were tough, but they handled it fine.

“To be down at halftime and to come back on a two-minute drive and score, that’s what the whole season has been about. They created a pretty special memory, to win a bowl game like this.”

Louisiana-Lafayette (6-7) led 13-0 midway through the second quarter and 16-6 at halftime.

Tune was named the game’s offensive MVP, finishing 19 of 28 for 216 yards. He led Houston on a 13-play, 70-yard drive to open the second half and hit Dell for a 2-yard touchdown that made it 16-13.

The Cougars kept it close from there, setting the stage for Tune’s game-winner to the 5-foot-10 Dell, nicknamed “Tank.”

“That’s exactly the way I would have scripted to go out,” Tune said. “I saw the coverage, and we had a play called to Tank. I saw leverage for a better route and he did, too. I had all the faith in the world he would win on the route, catch the ball and get into the end zone. It was an easy decision for me. I couldn’t be happier with the way it happened.”

Clinging to a three-point lead, Louisiana stuffed Houston on fourth-and-short at the Ragin’ Cajuns 5-yard line midway through the third quarter, but the Cougars eventually tied the game on Kyle Ramsey’s 19-yard field early in the fourth.

The Ragin’ Cajuns wasted a chance to retake the lead when running back Chris Smith fumbled at the Houston 4.

“They fought,” first-year Ragin Cajuns coach Mike Desormeaux said. “We made a couple of mistakes in crucial situations, but I’ve never been more proud of them.”

Louisiana-Lafayette, located three hours south of Shreveport, took the opening kick and orchestrated a 15-play, 75-yard drive that ended when tight end Johnny Lumpkin made a dazzling touchdown catch in the corner of the end zone.

The Cajuns got three field goals in the first half from by Kenneth Almendares (42, 42, and 22 yards). Chandler Fields finished 17 of 25 passing for 169 yards and a touchdown.

Tune’s first TD toss was a 33-yarder to Carter in the second quarter. Carter finished with 104 yards on three catches, and Dell had six receptions for 44 yards.

ELITE COMPANY

Tune and Reed, who threw six TD passes in Wednesday’s New Orleans Bowl victory over South Alabama, are three ahead of Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams of Southern California and Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud. Williams still has the Cotton Bowl game to play and Stroud’s Buckeyes are in the College Football Playoff.

THE TAKEAWAY

Louisiana-Lafayette: First-year coach Michael Desormeaux guided the Ragin’ Cajuns to their first losing season since 2017 (5-7). The program had posted three consecutive seasons with at least 10 victories (34-5 in that stretch).

Houston: Coach Dana Holgorsen honored one of his mentors, the late Mississippi State coach Mike Leach, by wearing a black hoodie with “STATE” on the front. Holgorsen played for Leach at Iowa Wesleyan and later coached under him at Texas Tech. Leach died on Dec. 12.

UP NEXT

Louisiana-Lafayette: The Ragin Cajuns remain in-state to open the 2023 season as they will host another Louisiana school, Northwestern State, on Sept. 2.

Houston: The Cougars open the 2023 campaign at home against UTSA on Sept. 2.

Georgia No. 1 in AP poll for second time, with Alabama No. 2

enna Watson/IndyStar / USA TODAY NETWORK
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INDIANAPOLIS- Georgia is No. 1 in The Associated Press college football poll, earning their second national title by beating Alabama on Monday night.

The Bulldogs received all 61 first-place votes to be a unanimous No. 1 for the ninth time this season. Georgia’s only other time finishing No. 1 was 1980.

The Tide finished No. 2, giving the Southeastern Conference the top two teams in the final rankings for the third time since 2011.

Michigan was No. 3, the Wolverines best final ranking since winning the national championship in 1997 and their first top-10 finish since 2006.

No. 4 Cincinnati, which became the first team from outside the Power Five conferences to reach the playoff, finished with its best final ranking.

As did No. 5 Baylor. The Bears previous best finish in the AP poll was No. 7 in 2014.

Ohio State was No. 6 and Oklahoma State finished seventh. The Cowboys had their best finish in the poll since they were third in 2011.

Notre Dame was eighth, Michigan State was ninth and Oklahoma was 10th, giving the Big 12 three top 10 teams.

For Michigan State, its the Spartans first top-10 finish since a string of three straight from 2013-15. The two Big Ten schools from the state of Michigan last both finished the season ranked in the top 10 in 1999.

Utah was No. 12, BYU was 19th and Utah State was No. 24, marking the first time the Beehive State has had all three of its major college football teams finish the season ranked.

Clemson finished 14th, snapping a string of six straight seasons in which the Tigers were no worse than fourth in the final Top 25.

No. 21 Houston edges Auburn 17-13 in Birmingham Bowl

Mickey Welsh / Advertiser / USA TODAY NETWORK
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala.- Jake Herslow caught a 26-yard, go-ahead touchdown pass from Clayton Tune with 3:27 left to help lift No. 21 Houston to a 17-13 victory over Auburn on Tuesday in the Birmingham Bowl.

The Cougars (12-2) marched 80 yards on eight plays to cap the third season in program history with at least 12 wins. They snapped a four-game bowl losing streak and won 12 of their final 13 games, the only loss coming to No. 4 Cincinnati in the American Athletic Conference championship game.

The Tigers (6-7) went in the opposite direction in coach Bryan Harsin‘s first season. They ended a season with five straight losses for the first time in 71 years and dropped their third bowl game in a row.

Game MVP Tune completed 26 of 40 passes for 283 yards and two touchdowns with an interception while also rushing for 43 yards. Nathaniel Dell caught 10 passes for 150 yards, while Alton McCaskill ran for 66 yards and caught a touchdown pass.

Auburn, which fired offensive coordinator Mike Bobo after the regular season, had one more chance but couldn’t get a first down. Tank Bigsby ran for 8 yards on first down and then T.J. Finley threw three straight incompletions on short passes.

Houston ran out the clock.

Finley completed 19 of 34 passes for 227 yards and a touchdown in his third start since replacing injured Bo Nix. Bigsby had 88 rushing yards and 68 receiving yards.

The Cougars had moved across midfield for the go-ahead score after Auburn’s second targeting ejection, this time against Jaylin Simpson.

Tune set it up with a 20-yard pass to tight end Christian Trahan.

The Tigers rallied from a 10-0 deficit to take the lead late in the third quarter on Kobe Hudson‘s 12-yard touchdown catch from Finley on third and goal.

THE TAKEAWAY

Houston punctuated one of its better seasons with a win over a Southeastern Conference team, this one after taking off following an opening loss.

Auburn had another game that slipped away late, including a quadruple-overtime loss to No. 1 Alabama. The Tigers were without some key players who were hurt, transferred or opted out.

TARGETED

Auburn safety Smoke Monday was the first player ejected for targeting after an earlier flag against him was overturned. This call came during Nehemiah Pritchett’s interception return. The penalty knocked the Tigers back 47 yards.

UP NEXT

Houston will try to close the gap on Cincinnati with an offense that is expected to return Tune and tailback Alton McCaskill. The Cougars open against UTSA.

Auburn has an important offseason that includes replacing Nix, who was injured and subsequently transferred to Oregon. The Tigers open against Mercer.