Image Credit: @CFBCampusTour

What are your top 5 games ever witnessed and why?

#5:  November 29, 2019 – #24 Virginia Tech @ Virginia

Originally, I was scheduled to be in Omaha for #17 Iowa at Nebraska, but changed my plans for the “biggest game in Scott Stadium history”. I had gone to the Egg Bowl in Starkville, Mississippi, which ended at 11 pm Thanksgiving night. The Virginia game had a noon kickoff in Charlottesville, Virginia. Logistically, it was nearly impossible to make on it time. I mapped out several options and found one that worked.

Got a long way to go and a short time to get there…

I drove 4½ hours in the middle of the night to Atlanta and caught the 7am flight to Reagan National in DC. After the flight, I screamed down Highways 15 and 29 to make it with 25 minutes to spare. A new problem arose though when I realized my Twitter ticket “connection” had fallen through. I had to drop $250 for one of the last remaining tickets on Stubhub just to get in. I learned my lesson.

It was quite the journey, but well worth it. Not only was the Commonwealth Cup (their rivalry trophy) on the line, the ACC Coastal was also up for grabs. With Virginia Tech having won 15 straight versus Virginia, the Hoos needed a special performance to end their losing streak.

The man for the job was QB Bryce Perkins. Of Virginia’s 492 total yards, Perkins accounted for 475.  He was 20/33 with 311 yards passing and rushed 19 times for 164 yards and 3 total TDs. Bryce exploded for two first quarter TD runs, including this one from 39 yards out:

Scoop-and-Seal

Even with Perkins’ heroic effort, Virginia Tech was only down three with the ball and 1:23 remaining. Virginia DE Mandy Alonso came up with a strip sack on Hokie QB Hendon Hooker. DT Eli Hanback jumped on the loose ball in the end zone for the game-sealing TD.

That one play not only broke the Cavaliers 15-game losing streak to VA Tech, it clinched the Coastal Division and a spot in the ACC Championship against Clemson. I’ve never seen a fan base so happy and relieved at the same time. For years they’d heard the Hokie trash talk and they FINALLY brought the Commonwealth Cup back to Charlottesville.

How do you properly celebrate such a tremendous, long-awaited accomplishment?  Storm the field, of course!

#4:  December 1, 2018 – Memphis @ #8 UCF

I love that the AAC (American Athletic Conference) plays its conference championship game in the home stadium of the team with the better record. As a game traveler searching for the best atmospheres, you cannot get a more hyped home crowd than this. Spectrum Stadium did not disappoint, either. The ‘Bounce House’ (which actually bounces when the metal bleachers flex) was lit and the stage was set for an incredible game:

So many significant storylines for this one. 1) UCF was on a 25-game winning streak and claimed the National Championship after defeating Auburn in the Peach Bowl in 2017. 2) It was the first game after QB Mackenzie Milton’s devastating knee injury in the War on I-4 against USF. 3) It was also a rematch of the 2017 AAC title game, which UCF won 62-55 over Memphis in a track meet. You could feel the energy and anxiety reverberating throughout the stadium.

The Tigers Claw Ahead

The Tigers came out smoking. RB Darrell Henderson went off in the first half. He had TD runs of 62, 12, 82 and threw a 4-yard TD pass in the first half alone. His 207 rushing yards helped Memphis take a commanding 38-21 lead into the locker room. Along with that, two fumbles by UCF’s backup QB Darriel Mack (a redshirt freshman making his first career start) didn’t give the hometown fans much hope.

But the Knights Fight Back

Whatever Scott Frost said to the Knights in the locker room changed everything. The Knights did a complete 180 in the second half. RB Greg McCrae eased the pressure on Mack by carrying the offensive load. He amassed 206 crucial rushing yards on the day. The defense stepped up, limiting Memphis to 3 second half points. They also held Henderson to 3 yards in the second half.

The run game support and the stonewalling defense raised Mack’s confidence tremendously. He had four second half rushing TDs and a beautiful 54-yard TD throw to WR Otis Anderson.

Final score: UCF 56. Memphis 41. A tremendous comeback by the Knights, who extended their winning streak to 26 games. This was the most fun I’ve had at a game. I’m a neutral fan, but I had to bounce with the crowd. A phenomenal night, and validation that UCF was a great team worthy of the opportunity to compete against the nation’s best.

#3:  September 3, 2017 – Texas A&M @ UCLA (2017)

The season opener for both teams was moved to Sunday, as the NFL was still one week away from starting. Going to as many non-Saturday games as possible allows you to hit 2-3 per weekend and quickly check off stadiums. Plus, how often does a SEC team play a regular season game in the Rose Bowl?

Texas-Size Lead

This game got out of hand very quickly. On the back of 6 first-half rushing touchdowns, Texas A&M took an insurmountable lead. It was getting really ugly in Pasadena, which says a lot given beautiful of a setting it is for football.

Many UCLA fans left after seeing the famed “Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band” perform at halftime. The Aggie lead continued to grow in the second half as well. A&M’s largest advantage was 44-10 with less than three minutes remaining in the third. Bruin fans had no reason to stay and no reason to be optimistic. But signal-caller Josh Rosen canceled their pity party, engineering one of the greatest comeback wins in the history of college football.

Bruin Beatdown

Rosen caught fire in the 4th quarter with TD passes of 9, 42, and 16 yards. The Bruins reduced the deficit down to 6 points in a matter of minutes. Not only did the A&M defense completely fall apart, their offense couldn’t move the ball. The once-celebratory Aggie fans were witnessing an absolute meltdown.

With less than a minute in the game, UCLA needed a TD. When RB Soso Jamabo failed to get out of bounds on a swing pass, Rosen rushed the team to the line to stop the clock. Rather than grounding it, he pulled a fake spike, a la Dan Marino, and found WR Jordan Lasley for the GW TD.  Here’s that sequence:

Though Texas A&M still had 43 seconds on the clock, they failed to get a first down. UCLA came back from 44-10 to win 45-44. The Aggies only needed ONE stop in the fourth quarter, and it was ballgame. They just couldn’t do it. Those who stayed for the ending were in disbelief. It was the most shocking turnaround I had ever witnessed.

#2:  September 29, 2018 – #4 Ohio State @ #9 Penn State

Night game at Beaver Stadium? Check. White Out? Check. Record-setting crowd? Check (110,889 people to be exact). Top 10 opponent? Check. Revenge Game? Check (OSU beat PSU 39-38 at Columbus in 2017 in a heartbreaker). Every element for a huge game was in place. The scene inside was unbelievable:

Lions Leap Out

The Nittany Lions dominated the first half. They owned time of possession, dominated on defense and had Ohio State out of sorts. Despite the dominance, Penn State had only built a 13-0 lead, and it felt like they’d left a lot of points on the field. The Buckeyes scored right before the half to cut it to 13-7.

Haskins the Hero

After OSU RB JK Dobbins put the Buckeyes ahead early in the 3rd quarter, Penn State responded with two straight TDs to regain the lead 26-14. With 8 minutes remaining and the force of over 100,000 fanatical Nittany Lion supporters, victory seemed assured. But unfortunately, Ohio State tapped in the same 2017 magic to deliver a devastating loss for PSU.

QB Dwayne Haskins first found WR Binjimen Victor on a 47-yard TD pass to bring them within 5 points. OSU got the ball back again down 26-21 on their own 4-yard line with 4:35 left to play. Haskins proceeded to lead an 8-play, 96-yard TD drive, capped off by this 24 yard TD pass to KJ Hill:

Even though Hill shushed the crowd, it was unnecessary. Other than the small contingent of Buckeye fans, Beaver Stadium was dead quiet. I have never heard such a contrast between crazy high decibel levels and deafening silence. OSU stopped the final Penn State drive and captured the 27-26 victory in hostile territory. It was an unforgettable experience in what may be the best environment in the entire country.

#1:  November 23, 2018 – #6 Oklahoma @ #12 West Virginia

The regular season finale posed different scenarios for both teams. West Virginia needed a win to clinch a spot in the Big 12 title game. If they did, they’d see the Sooners for a second straight game. The Sooners had already clinched their place in the championship game, but did need to win to keep their College Football Playoff dreams alive.

But a win versus WV meant they would face Texas – the only team that had beat them all year. Would it be better to lose to West Virginia to avoid the Longhorns? While Sooner fans might have debated throwing the game, the team proved they were out to win. It was a very cold night in Morgantown, but perfect late November football weather:

Defensive Struggle?

This game had the most impressive offensive fireworks I’ve ever witnessed. The stats were insane – Oklahoma had 668 yards of offense. Somehow, West Virginia topped that with 704. WVU QB Will Grier threw for 539 yards and 4 TDs. He was matched by eventual Heisman Trophy winning QB Kyler Murray, who finished with 364 yards passing, 114 yards rushing and 4 total TDs. Murray is also the fastest player I’ve ever seen in person. Watch him fly down the field on this designed QB run:

These offenses were so fierce that they amassed 101 total points (52-49 OU) with 11:10 to go in the 4th quarter. The exhausted fans had been through the wringer, yet there was still nearly an entire quarter of football left.

The first 3 quarters proved that both offenses would not slow down. Both teams continued to score every time they had the ball. Someone on defense had make a play. Finally, DE Kenneth Mann stepped up and recorded a strip sack on Will Grier. LB Curtis Lofton scooped it up and ran 48 yards for the game-sealing TD. West Virginia added a late TD to get within 3, but Oklahoma hung on for a 59-56 win.

The Sooners avenged their regular season loss to Texas, beating them 39-27 in the Big 12 Championship. This earned the Sooners a spot in the College Football Playoff. West Virginia ended their season on a three-game losing streak and a loss to Syracuse in the Camping World Bowl. Regardless of how each teams ended their season, I’ll always remember November 23, 2018 as the greatest offensive display I’d ever seen.