San Diego — 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.
Pace had a second interception in the third quarter, on a deflected pass.
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said the second half was a nightmare.
“I’ve been coaching a long time and I don’t think I’ve ever been a part of third quarter like that,” he said. “We had complete control of the game at halftime and we came out in second half and proceded to turn the ball over five times. … You turn the ball over like that and you win almost never.”
Shelley was making his fourth start in place of Tyler Huntley, who broke his collarbone against Arizona State on Nov. 3. Also out were leading rusher Zack Moss, leading receiver Britain Covey and leading tackler Chase Hansen, a senior.
Shelley threw a 27-yard touchdown pass to Jaylen Dixon and a 4-yarder to tight end Jake Jackson, both in the first quarter.
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.
Oklahoma State 38, No. 24 Missouri 33: Taylor Cornelius tied a Liberty Bowl record with four touchdown passes and Kolby Peel made a critical fourth-down stop with 1:01 left. Missouri (8-5) faced fourth-and-1 when quarterback Drew Lock attempted a keeper around the right end. Peel made an ankle tackle that stopped Lock short of the first-down marker.
That allowed Oklahoma State (7-6) to hang on to win a game it had led 35-19 heading into the fourth quarter. The Cowboys snapped Missouri’s four-game winning streak.
Cornelius, a fifth-year senior and former walk-on, went 26 of 44 with four touchdown passes and two interceptions by Cam Hilton that sparked Missouri’s comeback try. Both interceptions led to Missouri touchdowns.
Missouri’s Larry Rountree III ran for 204 yards, including a 55-yard touchdown. Missouri’s Johnathon Johnson had nine catches for 185 yards, including an 86-yard score. Lock was 23 of 38 for 373 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Chuba Hubbard rushed for 145 yards and a touchdown for Oklahoma State. Tyron Johnson had seven catches for 141 yards and two touchdowns.
No. 21 Texas A&M 53, North Carolina State 13: Trayveon Williams ran for 236 yards and three touchdowns, smashing a 30-year-old school record. The Aggies ended 2018 with a four-game winning streak and broke a three-game postseason skid.
It capped an impressive inaugural season for coach Jimbo Fisher in Aggieland.
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.
Kellen Mond completed 14 of 26 passes for 140 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. Mond also ran five times for 85 yards and a score. Kendrick Rogers made a leaping, 6-yard catch in the back of the end zone to help Mond.
Ryan Finley, a senior playing his final game, completed 19 of 32 passes for 139 yards. He threw a touchdown passes and two interceptions.
Stanford 14, Pittsburgh 13: Cameron Scarlett scored on a 1-yard run and recovered a fumble in the end zone for a second score. The Cardinal (9-4) finished on a four-game winning streak, much the same way they did two years ago when Stanford won the Sun Bowl for a season-ending six-game streak.
The Panthers (7-7) lost their fourth straight bowl game and sixth in the past seven after falling to playoff championship finalist Clemson in the ACC title game.
Pitt, which had a 10-7 halftime lead and was up 13-7 early in the fourth quarter, was led by tailback Darrin Hall, who had 16 carries for 123 yards and a score.
Stanford’s offense, which had struggled all day, finally got going in the fourth quarter.
Scarlett had 91 yards on 21 carries in place of tailback Bryce Love, who decided to skip the bowl game to rehab an ankle injury ahead of the NFL draft. Love was the second Stanford back to do that in the past three Sun Bowls.
Cincinnati 35, Virginia Tech 31: Michael Warren ran for a career-high 166 yards and scored the go-ahead touchdown with 1:29 left in a soggy Military Bowl as Cincinnati ended Virginia Tech’s run of 25 consecutive winning seasons.
A tight game that featured more than 900 yards in offense and seven lead changes wasn’t decided until Warren busted up the middle for his second touchdown to cap a 64-yard drive directed by backup quarterback Hayden Moore.
Moore, a senior who made 12 starts last year, took over for injured starter Desmond Ridder in the first quarter and completed 11 of 25 passes for 120 yards. He had previously thrown only 26 passes in 2018.
The victory gave Cincinnati (11-2) its third 11-win season in the 131-year history of the program.
Playing in a bowl game for the 26th successive year – the longest current run in the nation – Virginia Tech needed a victory to avoid its first losing season since 1992. Ryan Willis threw two touchdown passes and ran for another score, but it wasn’t enough for the Hokies (6-7).