When backup quarterback Tanner Magnum hit receiver Mitch Mathews with a 42-yard prayer as time expired to give the BYU Cougars a 33-28 victory over the Nebraska Huskers back in week 2 of the 2015 college football season, we were reminded of how awesome a miraculous, game-winning play can be. In a way, that’s part of the beauty of the all or nothing play.
Whether it was the big-time programs going out of their way to make a statement, talented players rising to the occasion with memorable performances, or former standouts reminding the rest of the world that they’re the one to watch, this season has had all the makings of a classic. Of course, never in a million years, did we expect to be blown away by a Hail Mary pass so early in the year.
As a result, we thought it’d be only fitting to pay tribute to those unbelievable last-second passes that, not only changed the outcome of the game, but also had us believing in the impossible. With that in mind, here’s a look at the five greatest Hail Mary passes in college football history.
5. October 22, 2011: Michigan State 37, Wisconsin 31
In a classic matchup of Big Ten powerhouses, Michigan State and Wisconsin found themselves tied at 31 points a piece with just four seconds left to play in regulation. The Spartans had the ball at the Badgers 44-yard line and quarterback Kirk Cousins knew he had one last shot to make something happen.
He took the snap, rolled right, and chucked it as far as he could down the field. The ball bounced off multiple hands and a facemask before it was caught just short of the goal line by wide receiver Keith Nichol, who somehow pushed him across the plane for the game-winning touchdown.
4. January 1, 2005: Iowa 30, LSU 25
While the Hail Mary pass is usually associated with a massive heave to the end-zone, we can’t help but make an exception for this particular play. That’s how crazy the finish at the 2005 Capital One Bowl was between the Iowa Hawkeyes and LSU Tigers.
Down 25-24 with under 10 seconds to play, Iowa’s Drew Tate got the snap at his own 44-yard line, stepped, and launched a prayer with very few expecting anything to happen. Only, somehow, Hawkeyes receiver Warren Holloway caught the ball between defenders at the 15-yard line and scampered into the end-zone. To this day, that 56-yard touchdown pass from Tate to Holloway is still referred to as “The Catch.”
3. December 19, 1980: BYU 46, SMU 45
The 1980 Holiday Bowl between the BYU Cougars and the SMU Mustangs will forever be known as “The Miracle Bowl.” That’s usually what happens when a team is down 45-25 with less than three minutes to play, only to make a furious comeback and win the game on an impossible Hail Mary pass launched from its own 46-yard line.
For SMU, the game had to be considered an epic collapse. For the Cougars and stud quarterback Jim McMahon — who finished the game completing 32 of 49 passes for 446 passing yards and four touchdowns — the game was nothing short of “a miracle.”
2. September 24, 1994: Colorado 27, Michigan 26
The 1994 Colorado Buffaloes would finish the year with an 11-1 record and No. 3 ranking in the AP Poll. But ask any fan of the sport to tell you the most memorable thing to happen to that particular team, and there bound to mention the “Miracle in Michigan.”
With six seconds left to play, the Buffaloes were on their own 36-yard line, trailing the Michigan Wolverines 26-21, and down to their final play. Colorado quarterback Kordell Stewart takes the snap, buys himself some time, and fires the ball down the field as far as he can. The ball travels 73 yards to the Wolverines goal line, where it is tipped to the back of the end zone and caught by a diving Michael Westbrook. With the stunned Michigan crowd at the Big House in complete disbelief, the Colorado Buffaloes celebrate their improbable 27-26 victory.
1. November 23, 1984: Boston College 47, Miami 45
Try as hard as you may, you will never come up with a better Hail Mary pass in college football than the one Doug Flutie threw to Gerard Phelan against the Miami Hurricanes on November 23, 1984.
In just six seconds, with one masterfully iconic throw, Flutie not only lifted the Boston College Eagles over the defending national champion Hurricanes 47-45, but he also cemented his place in college football lore. Thus was the power of “Hail Flutie.”