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Original Issue

Good to the Last Tick

USC beat the clock for the most dramatic ending in college football last Saturday, but the five teams who scrambled to win these down-to-the-wire intraconference showdowns weren't far behind



THE SITUATION: Looking to move into the driver's seat in the Big Ten, undefeated Penn State led Michigan 25--21 with one second left, but the Wolverines had the ball at the Nittany Lions' 10.

THE FINISH: The Wolverines call it Python, and quarterback Chad Henne says the team practices the play about 15 times every Wednesday as part of its red-zone package. Freshman wideout Mario Manningham was split to the right, with Steve Breaston in the slot. At the snap Breaston--the first read for Henne--ran what the Wolverines call a B-line, sprinting to the five and cutting toward the goalpost. Manningham (above) stayed outside on a deeper post route. "The call was perfect," said Breaston. "I could see Chad's eyes light up when he saw the defense." Strong safety Calvin Lowry cheated inside to help linebacker Paul Posluszny with Breaston. So Henne checked down to Manningham, who made a nifty cut and beat All-America corner Alan Zemaitis to the inside. "One second I was looking for the ball," said Breaston, "the next, all I heard was this roar."

NEXT UP: Penn State travels to Illinois while Michigan is at Iowa.



THE SITUATION: Undefeated Alabama, the leader in the SEC West, went into Oxford as a double-digit favorite, but it was locked in a 10--10 tie with the Rebels with 24 seconds left.

THE FINISH: Facing third-and-one from the Ole Miss 31, Crimson Tide quarterback Brodie Croyle called two plays in the huddle. The first was a sneak that picked up two yards, momentarily stopping the clock while the first-down marker was being reset. The second, known as 20 Paint, was a draw play out of the shotgun that coach Mike Shula hoped would get Alabama five yards closer for a field goal attempt. But Ken Darby, who in the third quarter had scored on a 48-yard run, took the handoff and sprinted 15 yards to the Ole Miss 14. "I think they thought we were going to throw," says Croyle. "They had only three down linemen, and they were bluffing their safety like they had been all day. Kenny gashed them." On the next play Jamie Christensen (above) drilled a 31-yard field goal as time expired.

NEXT UP: Alabama gets into the meat of its SEC schedule, with a game in Tuscaloosa against No. 17 Tennessee.



THE SITUATION: Trying to keep pace with top-ranked USC in the Pac-10, undefeated UCLA trailed Washington State 38--31 and faced third-and-three at the Cougars' nine with less than a minute left.

THE FINISH: Sophomore wideout Marcus Everett (above) picked a fine time to haul in the first touchdown pass of his college career, a leaping reception in the back of the end zone with 44 seconds left. (UCLA would win in overtime on Maurice Drew's one-yard TD run, following a Cougars field goal.) Everett's catch capped a 17-point fourth-quarter rally. Drew Olson completed 13 of 16 passes for 132 yards in the period and led drives covering 80 and 96 yards for the last two touchdowns. Criticized last season for an inability to make plays, the senior has led UCLA on game-winning drives for three straight weeks. Olson, for one, is underwhelmed by it all. "I'll tell you what," he said after the game. "I do not like playing from behind at all. It's something we've gotten good at, I guess, but it's not something we enjoy."

NEXT UP: UCLA returns to the Rose Bowl for a matchup with Oregon State, which surprised Cal last Saturday.


THE SITUATION: In a matchup of Big Ten rivals with one loss each, Minnesota led Wisconsin 34--31 with 38 seconds left in the battle for the Paul Bunyan Axe.

THE FINISH: With Minnesota forced to punt from its 17, Wisconsin special teams coach Brian Murphy asked coach Barry Alvarez, "What do you think?" For the first time this season, Alvarez called for the Zebra Block: Three players from the left side of the eight-man line--Jonathan Casillas, Zach Hampton and Ben Strickland--would go for the block while the other five would set up for a return. But there would be no return. Gophers punter Justin Kucek dropped the snap, recovered and rolled right in an attempt to make the kick. Of course, that meant he was moving into the teeth of the rush. Casillas, a reserve freshman linebacker, blocked the punt. The ball bounced across the goal line and was dangerously close to going out of the end zone (which would have resulted in only a safety) before it was recovered in a wild scramble by Casillas's roommate on the road, Strickland (above).

NEXT UP: Wisconsin faces Purdue in Madison. Minnesota is off until an Oct. 29 home game against Ohio State.



THE SITUATION: No. 19 Louisville traveled to Morgantown for a showdown between the two best teams in the Big East. West Virginia scored first in the third overtime and made its mandatory two-point conversion attempt to go up 46--38. The Cardinals responded with a touchdown but still needed the two-pointer to tie the game.

THE FINISH: Strong safety Eric Wicks sealed the victory for the Mountaineers by tackling Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm short of the goal line. But West Virginia would never have won without Steve Slaton, its 5'10", 195-pound freshman running back. Slaton (above) carried 31 times for 188 yards, caught three passes for 20 yards and scored all six West Virginia touchdowns (a school record). The second and third of those came in the final 8:16 of regulation as Slaton rallied the Mountaineers from a 24--7 deficit.

NEXT UP: West Virginia, the only remaining unbeaten team in Big East play, travels to South Florida, hoping to avoid the same ambush that Louisville walked into. The Bulls shocked the Cardinals 45--14 on Sept. 24.

--Mark Beech and Gene Menez