As we move toward the end of October, the public’s collective mind generally turns to costumes and candy.
College football coaches, however, find themselves in the middle of a grueling season, jockeying for position in the mid-season BCS rankings.
While it’s customary for children (and adults who still wish they were children) to call out “trick or treat” as they approach someone’s house seeking free candy, here are the top five instances of college football coaches pulling off both a trick (on the opponent) and a treat (for their fans) during a huge game:
5. Little Giants, Michigan State vs. Notre Dame (9/18/10).
Early in the 2010 season, Brian Kelly brought his Notre Dame team to East Lansing for a Saturday night game on national television. Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio was working hard to take the Spartans football program to the next level and knew that beating the Fighting Irish in this game would be big on the recruiting trail. As a result, when the game went to overtime, Dantonio knew he had to go for it all in dramatic fashion.
Notre Dame got the ball on offense first, and hit a field goal to take a three-point lead. On the subsequent Michigan State possession, the Spartans faced fourth down and a 46-yard field goal attempt to tie the game. However, in a play dubbed “Little Giants” by Dantonio, holder/punter Aaron Bates set up the fake and passed the ball to an open Charlie Gantt, who walked into the end zone to give the Spartans the dramatic win.
Although the trick fooled Notre Dame, Dantonio did not end up with much time to enjoy the treat as he suffered a mild heart attack that night, adding to the aura of the story.
4. Fake Field Goal No-Look Flip, LSU vs. Florida (10/9/10).
Speaking of rivalries, not many can compare with the intense SEC rivalry games that seem to occur on a weekly basis during the regular season. One such passionate rivalry game is that between the LSU Tigers and Florida Gators. In 2010, the Tigers were down by three points with 35 seconds remaining, facing a fourth-and-short. LSU then lined up to seemingly attempt a game-tying 52-yard field goal.
That is where Les Miles decided to dial up a trick play in the form of a fake field goal. The ball was snapped to holder Derek Helton, who threw the ball over the top of his head without looking, bouncing it to kicker Josh Jasper. Jasper picked up the ball on the run and made it past the first-down marker. It was a play that was hotly contested by Florida fans, arguing that the toss was a forward lateral and thus an incomplete pass. The call was upheld on review, however, and the Tigers scored the game-winning touchdown two plays later, giving the “Mad Hatter” another memorable and wild win.
3. Hook and Ladder, Boise State vs. Oklahoma (1/1/07).
In the 2006 season, many people still argued that Boise State and other non-BCS teams were not even worthy of taking the field against a traditional college football powerhouse in a BCS bowl game. Considering that, many of those same people scoffed at the idea of the Broncos being invited to the Fiesta Bowl to face the Oklahoma Sooners, who were led on offense by all-world running back Adrian Peterson.
During the game, Boise State showed it was for real, jumping out to an 18-point lead over the Sooners. However, as the second half wore on, it looked as though everything would be right in the football traditionalists’ world as Oklahoma took a touchdown lead with under a minute to play in the fourth quarter. The Broncos looked to make one last march down the field to tie the game but with just 17 seconds left, they faced a fourth-and-18 around midfield. Boise State quarterback Jared Zabransky dropped back and delivered what seemed to be a harmless 15-yard pass to Drisan James, but James lateraled the ball to a slashing Jerard Rabb, who took the ball the remaining 35 yards to improbably send the game to overtime tied 35-35.
2. Fumblerooski, Nebraska v. Miami (Fl.) (1/2/84).
When the play is known by a name that sounds more like a game kids play in the backyard than something that happened in an Orange Bowl game, you know it involved quite the trick. The Cornhuskers scored their first points of the game on the seemingly-harmless play, in which Nebraska quarterback Turner Gill appeared to take the snap and run an option to the right.
However, that is not what actually happened. Instead, when the center snapped the ball to Gill, he let it fall through his hands, which technically constituted a fumble. Therefore, offensive lineman Dean Steinkuhler was able to pick it up and run to the left while most of the Hurricanes’ defense was chasing after Gill to the right. The rumbling lineman took it it 19 yards for a touchdown in a trick play that combined great creativity and perfect execution.
1. Statue of Liberty, Boise State vs. Oklahoma (1/1/07).
As if already having the third most important trick play in college football history wasn’t enough, there was still overtime to play in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl between Oklahoma and Boise State. The Sooners got the ball first and scored a touchdown on a nearly 30-yard touchdown gallup by Peterson. Boise State then answered by taking the ball to the 5-yard line before facing a fourth-and-2 with the game on the line. Boise State coach Chris Peterson dialed up another trick play (which very well could have been on this list) as wide receiver Vinny Perretta threw a touchdown pass to Derek Schouman. However, instead kicking the extra point to tie and force another overtime session, Peterson went for the win with yet another memorable trick play.
The Broncos lined up to go for the two-point conversion, leading to one of the most exciting plays in college football history. Zabransky dropped back to pass with three wide receivers bunched to his right and immediately faked a screen pass in that direction. Instead of passing, the quarterback stood straight up and handed the ball behind his back to running back Ian Johnson, who ran to the left untouched to win the game. With that gutsy trick play, Boise State proved that it was for real and that non-BCS teams are more than capable of hanging with college football royalty.
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Del Pearson is a big college football fan who follows the sport closely, especially the Big Ten and Big East. Del is a season ticket holder for both Michigan State and Syracuse. You can follow Del on Twitter @DelPearson2.