Log In

Reset Password

College football’s greatest comebacks


: This is the second in a series of articles by Times News writer Rich Strack. After writing about his “Greatest Games” in sports history in the opening series, he will now offer his thoughts on the “Greatest Comebacks.” Throughout the upcoming weeks, Strack will give his list of the top comebacks in different sports. Today’s topic is college football.

By Rich Strack


In this difficult time of a health crisis, the matter of sports competition that brings so much recreational joy to millions of Americans has been rightfully postponed.

Every level from the professional and college ranks down to high school spring sports will have empty stadiums, ball fields, and tracks for the foreseeable future.

But if you’re a fan like me, with many years of devotion to athletic competition, some of the greatest events from the past are still being played in your memory rewind.

So sit back and let me distract you from public concerns for just a moment with No. 3 in a series on the “Greatest Comebacks” that will remain forever in my personal Hall of Fame.

Today, I give you three of the best college football come-from-behind games of my lifetime to date.

2017 regular season

Texas A&M vs UCLA

Imagine coming back to win when you’re losing by 34 points with four minutes to go in the third quarter. The Aggies were leading UCLA 44-10 and had completely stifled the Bruin’s offense.

A&M began the fourth quarter up 44-17, but QB Josh Rosen’s arm caught fire and the Bruins mounted a comeback.

Consecutive drives of 85 and 96 yards ending with touchdown passes, and UCLA was down 44-31 with 8:12 to go. A&M drove down the field, but a field-goal attempt that might have iced the game was blocked.

Rosen then threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to 44-38 with 3:10 left. On their next possession came the decisive play that capped the incredible rally. After driving to the 10-yard line and with no time outs, the Bruins lined up to stop the clock. Rosen faked the spike and hit a wide-open receiver for the winning 45-44 winning score

2016 Alamo Bowl

Oregon vs TCU

Oregon dominated the first half, taking a 31-0 lead as TCU was forced to play without star quarterback Trevone Boykin, who was suspended for the game.

Oregon quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. was having a spectacular performance, scrambling from the pocket and throwing for 197 yards in the first half, but on a four-yard run in the second quarter, he suffered a helmet-to-helmet hit and was lost for the remainder of the game.

That play changed the game as Oregon was shutout in the second half.

Meanwhile, TCU got its mojo working. When backup quarterback Bram Kolhausen dove into the end zone for a score, TCU was within 31-17 after three quarters.

In the last quarter, an Oregon TD pass was nullified when their quarterback’s knee was ruled down on a low shotgun snap. TCU scored on every second-half possession and tied the score at 31-31 on a 22-yard field goal with 19 seconds left in regulation.

The Frogs scored first in the first overtime when Kohlhausen threw a 7-yard touchdown. The Ducks answered with Royce Freeman’s third touchdown run.

After the teams exchanged field goals in the second overtime, Kolhausen sneaked around the right end on an option, and seemingly disappeared behind his blockers until he was in the end zone. TCU’s 2-point conversion pass attempt failed, but Oregon’s final chance to tie the game ended with an incomplete pass on fourth down near the goal line, giving TCU a 47-41 triple overtime victory.

1979 Cotton Bowl

Notre Dame vs Houston

The 1979 Cotton Bowl was played after an unusual ice storm had ripped through Dallas and left a game-time wind chill of minus 7 degrees.

After Joe Montana led the Irish to an early 12-0 lead, the Cougars roared back, scoring 34 consecutive points to take a commanding 34-12 lead into the fourth quarter.

Montana was fighting off the flu and also hypothermia. In the locker room at halftime, he ate a bowl of chicken soup and was wrapped in blankets to warm up and find some energy. He didn’t return to the field until late in the third quarter.

Despite Montana’s return, the Irish were still trailing by 22 points with just 7:37 left in the game.

A blocked punt for a touchdown, and a two-point conversion, pulled the Irish within 14 at 34-20.

When the Irish got the ball back, Montana finished a drive with a 2-yard touchdown run and added another two-point conversion, cutting the lead to six points with 4:15 to go.

Notre Dame’s defense stuffed Houston on a fourth-and-inches play deep in Cougar territory with under a minute to go. On the game’s final play, Montana found Kris Haines on an 8-yard touchdown pass. With no time remaining, a successful extra point gave the Irish a 35-34 win.


A fake spike, a knee touches the ground, and a bowl of chicken soup all played major parts in these dramatic comeback victories.

UCLA tricked Texas A&M into believing they would spike the ball with no time outs, but the risky fake resulted in a touchdown pass for a dramatic Bruin win.

A low snap from the center that made Oregon quarterback bend his knee and just touch the ground to nullify a TD pass that most likely would have iced the game for the Ducks.

After eating a bowl of chicken soup, Montana knocked out the Houston Cougars much like Popeye after he eats spinach and KOs Brutus.

Big comebacks are often prolonged by odd events that keep the rally alive.

Someone once wrote, “The hardest steel is forged in the hottest fires.” There are moments of every comeback where something must be done to keep the march to victory in step. High risk is taken and high reward is attained.

NFL Hall of Fame quarterback, Peyton Manning, who earned the title, “The Comeback Kid” when he played at Tennessee, never liked comeback wins as much as you might think. He said, “You hear about how many fourth quarter comebacks a guy has and I think it means that guy screwed up for the first three quarters.”

Manning’s remarks may have a greater significance. Like football, the game of life is played with a time clock as well, Sand as glorious as our triumphs against all odds may be, we’re still failing badly three quarters of the time

No matter, though.

It’s not how you start living your life. It’s how you finish.