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Northwestern defense shocks 20th-ranked Utah in Holiday Bowl

AP

A cold, hard rain in normally warm, dry San Diego made the Northwestern Wildcats feel right at home, especially as they enjoyed a downpour of Utah turnovers in the Holiday Bowl.

In a dizzying nine-minute stretch of the third quarter, the Wildcats turned three turnovers into 21 points to stun the No. 20 Utes 31-20 Monday night.

The highlight was Jared McGee’s 82-yard fumble return for a touchdown, the middle turnover in the nightmarish stretch for Utah.

“Did I think we were going to be able to create that amount of turnovers?” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “I love San Diego but man I love it when it rains on game day. That was sweet because I think it played a really big factor. It was raining a little bit harder coming out of halftime than it was before the half and I think that played a role in the game.”

The Wildcats (9-5) scored 28 points total in the third quarter to win their third straight bowl game under Fitzgerald. The Green Bay Packers reportedly want to interview Fitzgerald for their head coaching job.

Fitzgerald credited the seniors for winning 36 games in four seasons and gushed about the program’s future.

“They have set the bar now at a whole new level for our program and we couldn’t be more excited about our future,” he said.

Asked about his own future, he said: “Hashtag GoCats, man. I’m not going anywhere. This is home forever. Listen, these are my guys. … I’m a Wildcat for life. I’m so thankful for these guys. … We’re just getting started.”

Senior Clayton Thorson became the all-time leading passer for Northwestern, going 21 of 30 for 241 yards for 10,731 career yards. He broke Brett Basanez’s school record of 10,580. Thorson threw for two touchdowns and was intercepted once in making his 53rd straight start for the Wildcats, the most by a quarterback in Big Ten history. He is the program’s all-time winningest quarterback at 36-17. He was replaced after taking a hard shot midway through the fourth quarter, but came back in.

Utah (9-5) cruised to a 20-3 halftime lead behind redshirt freshman quarterback Jason Shelley before it all fell apart in the third quarter. Shelley had two interceptions and a fumble. Utah had four turnovers in the third quarter and five in the second half.

On the opening drive of the second half, Shelley threw the ball right to Northwestern’s Blake Gallagher. Thorson’s 52-yard pass to Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman set up his 4-yard scoring toss to Riley Lees.

“We talked at halftime about, get a stop, get a score, seize momentum,” Fitzgerald said. “The credit goes to our guys. They were resilient all year. Today was indicative of our team.”

The Utes had the ball first-and-goal at the 6 when Shelley rolled right, was hit from behind by Joe Gaziano and fumbled. McGee picked it up on the third bounce and ran down the sideline untouched for an 82-yard return that pulled the Wildcats to 20-17.

“I definitely can’t take credit for anything that happened on that play other than running with the ball,” McGee said.

The Utes advanced to the 30 and looked like they had enough for a first down on a catch by Jaylen Dixon, but he was stripped by Trae Williams. JR Pace recovered and returned it 34 yards. Two plays later, Northwestern took a 24-20 lead when Thorson threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to senior offensive lineman Trey Klock, a key player in goal line and short-yardage situations.

Northwestern added another touchdown in the third quarter when Lees scored from 8 yards out for a 31-20 lead.

Utah lost for the just the second time in its last 16 bowls dating to 1999. Whittingham’s bowl record dropped to 11-2. He was trying to become the first to win the Holiday Bowl as a player and coach. He played in the first four Holiday Bowls with BYU, going 2-2. He was inducted into the Holiday Bowl Hall of Fame in 2009.

Gator Bowl

No. 21 Texsas A&M 52, North Carolina State 13

In Jacksonville, Florida, Trayveon Williams ran for 236 yards and three touchdowns, smashing a 30-year-old school record and carrying No. 21 Texas A&M to a runaway victory against North Carolina State.

The Aggies (No. 19 CFP) ended 2018 with a four-game winning streak and broke a three-game postseason skid. It was the first bowl victory for most of Texas A&M’s roster, including Williams.

It also capped an impressive inaugural season for coach Jimbo Fisher in Aggieland.

“The most important thing is we got that bowl win, that bowl win that we’ve been missing out on the last four or five seasons,” Williams said. “We got that. We’re definitely molding and showing this program is going in a new direction.”

Williams earned MVP honors, a potential final curtain call for his college career. The junior is expected to leave school early and enter the NFL draft.

He said afterward he’s still contemplating his future, but no one could blame him for turning pro after the way he closed out the season.

Williams ran for 829 yards and eight scores during Texas A&M’s final four games, all wins. His performance against the Wolfpack gave him 1,760 yards for the season, topping Darren Lewis’ previous Texas A&M mark of 1,692 set in 1988.

Williams had 61 yards rushing in the first half and then got rolling in the third quarter. He carried five times for 82 yards on one drive, including a 17-yard touchdown run . He topped that with a 93-yard scoring run on Texas A&M’s ensuing drive.

Liberty Bowl

Oklahoma State 38, No. 24 Missouri 33

In Memphis, Taylor Cornelius tied a Liberty Bowl record with four touchdown passes and Kolby Peel made a critical fourth-down stop with 1:01 left as the Cowboys upset No. 24 MissouriThe teams combined for 1,139 total yards in the type of game that the Big 12′s high-powered offenses produce on most autumn Saturdays. Missouri left the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference in 2012.

“(It was) like a lot of games that we play in our conference,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. “As I said on the press conference a few days ago, Missouri would fit right in. It ended up being somewhat of a shootout, and the defense made a play at the end.”

Missouri (8-5) faced fourth-and-1 from Oklahoma State’s 9-yard line when quarterback Drew Lock attempted a keeper around the right end. Peel, a freshman, made a diving ankle tackle that stopped Lock short of the first-down marker.

That allowed Oklahoma State (7-6) to survive a game it had led 35-19 heading into the fourth quarter. The Cowboys snapped Missouri’s four-game winning streak and avoided their first losing season since 2005, the first year of Gundy’s tenure.

Redbox Bowl

Oregon 7, Michigan State 6

In Santa Clara, California, Justin Herbert shook off a sluggish day and threw a 28-yard touchdown pass to Dillon Mitchell in the fourth quarter, and Oregon held on after Michigan State botched a field goal attempt for a victory.

“We felt like it was going to be that kind of game just watching them on defense,” Ducks coach Mario Cristobal said. “We kept battling and battling. You take a victory whether it be one point, two points or 50 points. These guys found a way to get it done.”

Herbert passed for 166 yards and extended his streak on a day when the Ducks’ offense mostly sputtered.

Oregon (9-4) crossed midfield only three times and couldn’t get into the end zone until Herbert found Mitchell in the right front of the end zone for the deciding score. The Ducks’ defense held up from there but got some help from Michigan State’s special teams.

The Spartans were lined up for a 50-yard field goal attempt when quarterback Brian Lewerke, who doubles as the holder, bobbled the snap, then attempted to run before hurriedly throwing an incompletion near the sideline.

After Michigan State’s defense forced a three-and-out on the following possession, the Spartans took over at their own 42, but Lewerke’s long pass on fourth-and-12 was knocked down by Oregon cornerback Thomas Graham.

Lewerke completed 22 of 40 passes for 172 yards with one interception. It’s the third time in four games that Michigan State (7-6) has failed to score a touchdown.

Sun Bowl

Stanford 14, Pitt 13

In El Paso, Texas, with all of the struggles it had on offense, it was a wonder that Stanford was able to hold off Pitt for a win.

Pitt had an advantage in nearly every statistical category. The Panthers had more yards (344-208), first downs (18-12), rushes and yards (42-208, 34-103), passing yards (136-105) and third-down conversions (5-1). And Stanford was playing without five starters — star tailback Bryce Love, receiver Trent Irwin, tight end Kaden Smith, left tackle Walker Little and right guard Nate Herbig.

Finally, Pitt’s defense was stingy. Stanford quarterback K.J. Costello saw a streak of 16 games with a TD pass end, and the Cardinal was 1 of 10 on third downs.

“Pitt’s a very physical football team with two outstanding runners,” Stanford head coach David Shaw said. “As indicative of our entire season, we had more guys get banged up and guys stepped up and played. Thankfully, guys didn’t stay out very long. Guys were able to come back in and make plays and keep fighting. Can’t say enough about the heart of some of our older guys.”

Even the game-winning score was ugly — the Panthers had stopped Costello on a first-and-goal from the 2-yard line and forced a fumble, which tailback Cameron Scarlett recovered in the end zone.

Scarlett carried 22 times for 94 yards, including another score on a 1-yard run, to earn game MVP honors while filling in for Love.