Saturday, December 15, 2018

Georgia Southern: 2018 Camellia Bowl Champions

MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- Tyler Bass found a way to top his last-play 50-yard field goal to end the first half.

Bass kicked a 40-yarder as time expired to give Georgia Southern a 23-21 victory over Eastern Michigan in the Camellia Bowl on Saturday night.

Shai Werts kept the winning drive alive with a 29-yard scramble on fourth-and-10. Bass came on for his third field goal after Wesley Fields' two runs pushed Georgia Southern (10-3) 7 yards closer.

"Right when Shai got that first down, I knew we had a chance to kick it," Bass said. "We've been preparing all week for it, all year for it. When I got out there, I didn't think about anything but the snap, the hold and me just kicking it through. That was it."

Georgia Southern completed the biggest turnaround in the Football Bowl Subdivision this season, going from 10 losses to 10 wins.

"I said at the beginning of the year, we're not sexy, we're just blue collar," coach Chad Lunsford said. "That showed tonight."

Eastern Michigan (7-6) had delivered its own big fourth-down play to take the lead for the first time.

Mike Glass threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Arthur Jackson with 3:33 left on fourth-and-4, followed by Chad Ryland's extra point.

"It was a great football game, and they're obviously a great football program and a great football team," Eastern Michigan coach Chris Creighton said. "They got it done in the end. Much as it rips our heart out to say, we do congratulate them, and (it was) an awesome football game."

Georgia Southern took over at its own 25 with a triple-option offense that attempted fewer passes than every FBS team but Army. Werts completed a 15-yard pass to tight end Ellis Richardson, but Georgia Southern fittingly covered most of the 52 yards with runs.

Werts ran for 79 yards and two first-half touchdowns while completing 4 of 7 passes for 33 yards to receive Most Valuable Player honors. His biggest play came on the fourth-and-10.

"I really should have thrown the ball. Ellis was wide open," Werts said. "Wesley had made a block on the linebacker. There was nobody in front of me so I just took off running."

Wesley Kennedy III gained 107 yards on nine carries.

Eastern Michigan's Glass completed 17 of 25 passes for 204 yards and three touchdowns, including a 75-yarder to Jackson on the opening play of the second half. He had missed the final two games of the regular season with a right leg injury and had only two previous starts.

Glass found Jackson in the back of the end zone to cap a 16-play, 75-yard drive that consumed more than six minutes.

"I was just going through my reads and came back to it late," Glass said. "The linebacker stepped up a little bit and I saw I could get it over their heads."

As it turns out, it left too much time on the clock.


Georgia Southern: Ran for 331 yards on 58 carries. Finished the season without throwing an interception. Had its first 10-win season in FBS and second bowl win in as many tries.

Eastern Michigan: Had eight games decided by one score. Just missed its first eight-win season since going 10-2 in 1987.


Georgia Southern set an NCAA FBS record with only five turnovers this season. The previous NCAA record was eight turnovers in a season by six teams, last done by LSU in 2017. The Eagles were the only FBS team that didn't throw an interception this season.


"When we first got here this program was in shambles." Eastern Michigan defensive lineman Jeremiah Harris.


The five Camellia Bowls have been decided by a combined 17 points, including two winning, last-play field goals.


Georgia Southern returns most of its offensive starters, including Werts, but loses leading rusher Wesley Fields and top tackler Joshua Moon. It will be the second full season for Lunsford, who led the team's rebound from a 2-10 season.

Eastern Michigan is set to lose six starters on both offense and defense, including quarterback Tyler Wiegers. Glass started three games and is a dual threat running and passing.

Fresno State: 2018 Las Vegas Bowl Champions

LAS VEGAS -- Running back Ronnie Rivers might be the embodiment of Fresno State's turnaround.

It wasn't guaranteed Rivers would be able to play this season after sustaining a foot injury in spring practice, and he was limited by a shoulder injury late in the year. But Rivers was there, leading the way as the Bulldogs completed their journey after going 1-11 two seasons ago.

Rivers rushed for 212 yards and two touchdowns to help No. 19 Fresno State beat Arizona State 31-20 in the Las Vegas Bowl on Saturday.

Anthoula Kelly had a 70-yard interception return for a touchdown, and Marcus McMaryion rushed for a touchdown and was 15-of-29 passing for 176 yards to help Fresno State (12-2) set a school record for wins in a season.

"It's a group that persevered," Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford said. "This group can be remembered as the only team in NCAA history that went from a double-digit losing season to back-to-back double-digit winning seasons."

Rivers put Fresno State back in front 24-20 with a 68-yard touchdown run up the middle in the third quarter and had a 5-yard scoring run in the fourth quarter to seal it. The Bulldogs were 2-0 against Pac-12 opponents this season, also beating UCLA 38-14 in September.

"We've been emphasizing on the word `finish' this past week and just going out there and finishing the job, getting this 12th win," said Rivers, who gained 156 yards on 15 carries in the second half and was honored as the game's most valuable player.

Fresno State was able to overcome turnovers on three consecutive drives in the second half, including when McMaryion threw the first of two interceptions to set up Brandon Ruiz's 44-yard field goal that gave Arizona State a 20-17 lead.

Dejonte O'Neal also fumbled off the pylon when reaching out to score on a throwback screen.

"But I think it says a lot about our team," Tedford said. "Our team plays together, believe in one another. They don't panic and they just keep playing."

Eno Benjamin rushed for 118 yards a one touchdown for the Sun Devils (7-6) in their third straight bowl loss. Manny Wilkins threw for 129 yards, with a 3-yard scoring pass to Kyle Williams and two interceptions.

First-year coach Herm Edwards put the loss on the failure to score points off takeaways, getting three points following the three Fresno State turnovers. Arizona State had 63 yards of offense in the second half.

"We made it a game we wanted to play in. We made it uncomfortable for them," Arizona State coach Herm Edwards said. "But then they got a score. We had to catch up a little bit and that's where they can really come after you."

Benjamin set the school single-season rushing record on a 13-yard run in the second quarter, finishing with 1,642 yards rushing to break Woody Green's mark of 1,565 yards in 1972.

Wilkins said he did not sustain an injury despite taking a hit to the knee on the final pass of his college career, which was intercepted by Juju Hughes.

"I'm good. I left it all out there, so that's all I needed to do," Wilkins said.


Arizona State: The Sun Devils will be disappointed to finish with the exact same record as last season, but signs of progress under Edwards were evident. The defense found several young playmakers and played well against Fresno State without freshman linebacker Merlin Robertson. The offense, which played without star wide receiver N'Keal Harry after he declared for the NFL draft, needs to be upgraded to contend in the Pac-12.

Fresno State: The Bulldogs used a strong second half to complete its best season in school history. The senior-heavy offensive line led the way for Rivers, who will be the focal point of the offense in 2019. With a 22-6 record in two seasons at Fresno State, Tedford has reminded everyone why he is one of the best coaches in college football.


Fresno State will finish the season ranked for the third time in school history and should earn its highest final-ranking ever. Arizona State could merit consideration from voters in the preseason poll.


Arizona State: The Sun Devils need to replace Wilkins, and with commitments from three top high school quarterbacks, it seems his successor might not have been in uniform at the Las Vegas Bowl. If Arizona State can find stability there quickly, the pieces look to be in place to challenge in the Pac-12 South.

Fresno State: The Bulldogs are looking at a major roster overhaul, losing McMaryion, four of five starting offensive linemen and four defensive starters. However, a return to the Mountain West Conference title game isn't an unreasonable expectation based on what Tedford has accomplished in his first two seasons at Fresno State.

Tulane: 2018 Cure Bowl Champions

ORLANDO, Fla. -- From a 2-5 start to Cure Bowl champions.

Tulane (7-6) capped a turnaround season under coach Willie Fritz with a 41-24 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday, the Green Wave's first postseason win in 16 years.

Darius Bradwell rushed for a career-best 150 yards and two touchdowns and graduate transfer Justin McMillan improved to 5-1 as the team's starting quarterback by tossing a first-quarter TD pass to Terren Encalade and running for a late score in the 29th meeting in an intrastate rivalry that dates to 1911.

"Every game this season was kind of fourth-and-inches. Every one was tough," Fritz, completing his third year at the American Athletic Conference school, said. "Starting 2-5 and to come back and win this game is very special."

Bradwell scored on runs of 15 and 4 yards while setting bowl records for rushing attempts (35) and yards for Tulane (7-6), which won a bowl game for the first time since the 2002 Hawaii Bowl.

"We kept feeding him and he did a nice job getting vertical," Fritz said. "He's a hard guy to arm tackle at about 235 pounds."

The Green Wave also got a rushing TD from Amare Jones and outgained the Ragin' Cajuns 337 yards to 84 on the ground to improve to 23-6 all-time against the Rajun' Cajuns.

Lousiana-Lafayette coach Bill Napier said he didn't want the result to leave a "blackeye" on what the Sun Belt Conference runner-up accomplished in its first season under him.

"When our football team doesn't perform as well as we can it's 100 percent my responsibility," Napier said. "We're going to have the integrity to look in the mirror and adjust the things and fix the things we need to do."

The Ragin' Cajuns (7-7), coming off a loss to Appalachian State in the Sun Belt championship game, rallied from a 24-7 deficit to pull within three points on Jarrod Jackson's 15-yard TD reception with just over 10 minutes remaining.

McMillan put the game away, leading a 75-yard drive Bradwell finished with his second TD and later scoring himself on a 16-yard run that put Tulane up 41-24.

Andre Nunez completed 8 of 17 passes for 136 yards and one TD, however Louisiana-Lafayette's productive running tandem of Trey Ragas and Elijah Mitchell were not a factor after falling behind early.

"Very inefficient, in particular after the opening drive," which resulted in the Ragin' Cajuns taking a 7-0 lead on Raymond Calais' 38-yard touchdown run," Napier said.

"Today's outcome was a direct reflection who blocked better, who tackled better, who caught the ball better," Napier added. "There's nothing secret about what happened out there today."

Tulane won four of five down the stretch in the regular season to not only qualify for its first bowl berth in five years, but also finish with a winning record (5-3 AAC West Division) in league play for the first time since 2014.

McMillan was one of the keys, providing consistent quarterback play while throwing for more than 1,100 yards and accounting for 13 touchdowns -- nine passing and four rushing.

The graduate transfer from LSU, where he appeared on only two games from 2015-17, was 11 of 18 passing with one interception Saturday. He finished with 217 yards total offense -- 145 passing and 72 rushing.


Louisiana-Lafayette: Ragas rushed for nearly 1,200 yards and Mitchell fell just shy of 1,000 this season, however neither was a factor after the Ragin' Cajuns fell behind by double-digits. Ragas was limited to 40 yards on 10 carries, and Mitchell had 26 yards on six attempts and scored on a 3-yard run in the third quarter.

"You can't start slow in a big game like this and expect to overcome things like that," tight end Matt Barnes said. "We showed some fight and had opportunities to win the game."

Tulane: The Green Wave rushed for 483 yards and finished with a Cure Bowl-record and season-best 28 first downs. Bradwell topped 100 yards for the third time, finishing the season with 1,134 yards and 11 rushing TDs.


Louisiana-Lafayette: Nunez is a senior, however Ragas, Mitchell and Calas are all underclassmen for the Ragin' Cajuns, who moving forward have a solid foundation to build on Napier, who inherited a team that went 5-7 last season.

Tulane: McMillan has a year of eligibility remaining, as do Bradwell and Corey Dauphine, who combined for 1,928 yards and 18 TDs rushing. The Green Wave have never made bowl appearances in consecutive seasons, but will enter 2019 with heightened expectations after their strong finish.

Utah State: 2018 New Mexico Bowl Champions

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Utah State walked into the New Mexico Bowl with one of its best records in school history but uncertainty. Its head coach, Matt Wells, left to take the Texas Tech job. Interim coach Frank Maile had to prepare the Aggies with an army of graduate assistants and an announcement a new coach was coming next month.

North Texas, meanwhile, was coming into Albuquerque with experienced coach Seth Littrell and highly touted quarterback Mason Fine.

The Aggies pushed those distractions aside Saturday.

Jordan Love threw for 359 yards and four touchdowns and Jalen Greene had six catches for 151 yards and a score to help Utah State rout North Texas 52-13.

Maile directed the Aggies (11-2) even after Utah State announced former head coach Gary Andersen would return. However, Andersen opted not to attend the bowl game and let Maile finish what he started.

Love completed 21 of 43 passes with one interception. D.J. William had two interceptions, helping Utah State ground high-flying North Texas (9-4).

Aaren Vaughns caught two passes for 109 yards and two scores for the Aggies, Gerold Bright ran for 103 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries, and Darwin Thompson added 93 yards on 21 carries.

Maile said he did his best to get the offense ready. The rest was up the players, he said.

"The guys have lot of efforts to doing their jobs," Maile said. The defense is set up for everybody to make plays."

Love said receivers were able to get open, find space and get yards after the catch. "We've been doing that all season," he said.

Fine was injured in the first quarter, and the Mean Green ended up using four quarterbacks. Jalen Guyton had four catches for 103 yards a score.

Littrell said Utah State was the best team the Mean Green faced all season. "We didn't have enough in us today to make more plays to have success," Littrell said.

When Fine came up limping following a nine-yard run in the first quarter, the whole complexion of game changed. "I don't ever want to put him in harm's way and he is so tough," Littrell said. "He wants to do everything he can for his teammates. But as the head coach, sometimes enough is enough."

After the game, North Texas officials announced that Fine had a severe left strained hamstring. This is the second time in three years that Fine most of or all of the Mean Green's bowl game after a shoulder injury kept him out of the 2016 Heart of Dallas Bowl.

Littrell said Fine left with a "pretty bad" hamstring injury but couldn't give more details.

Cornerback Kemon Hall said it was painful to see his teammates injured but players are trained to always be on standby. "You've always got to stay ready," he said. "You hate to see guys do bad or people get hurt."


UTAH STATE: Maile was tasked with preparing the Aggies with a staff of graduate assistants in coordinator spots. Players had to handle the distractions and constant questions over the future leadership of the Aggies and how it would affect their chances in the bowl game.

NORTH TEXAS: Coach Seth Littrell announced this week he would stay with the Mean Green to build on what he started when he took over a team that was 1-11 in 2015. Since then, he has a 23-17 but has yet to win a bowl game in three straight appearances.


UTAH STATE: Andersen returns as head coach and takes over a program that is rising. Sophomore quarterback Love and junior running back Bright are returning to build on an offense that broke a school record in touchdowns.

NORTH TEXAS: Fine is expected to return next season as quarterback for his senior year. Many of his favorite receiving targets also are expected to return and they won't have to adjust to a new head coach after all.

North Carolina A&T: 2018 Celebration Bowl/HBCU National Champions

ATLANTA -- Lamar Raynard passed for 292 yards and two touchdowns and Malik Wilson returned a kickoff for the game-sealing touchdown Saturday as North Carolina A&T held off Alcorn State to win the Celebration Bowl 24-22, and the Aggies captured their second straight HBCU national championship and third in four years.

The Celebration Bowl kicks off the bowl season by matching up the champions of two historically black leagues, the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and the Southwestern Athletic Conference, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Raynard, a senior who finished his career with a 35-2 record as a starter, did most of his damage in the first half with touchdown passes of 17 yards to Zachary Leslie and 27 yards to Elijah Bell as North Carolina A&T (10-2) built a 17-3 lead in the second quarter.

Alcorn State (9-4) stormed back in the third quarter. De'Shawn Waller tallied 116 of his 167 rushing yards on just four carries in the period while playing about six miles east of where he grew up.

The Braves pulled within 17-16 on a 30-yard touchdown run by quarterback Noah Johnson, the SWAC Offensive Player of the Year, and a 29-yard field goal with 51 seconds left in the quarter. Johnson rushed for 120 yards and passed for 128.

Wilson countered immediately, fielding the short kickoff on the left side of the field. He took off diagonally toward the middle and then cut up the right sideline for a 79-yard score.

It was the senior's school-record fourth kickoff return for a touchdown this season alongside scores of 98, 99 and 100 yards.

Johnson scored on a 59-yard option keeper early in the fourth quarter to pull the Braves within 24-22.

Johnson rolled out on the ensuing two-point conversion try, and his pass to a sliding Chris Harris was ruled incomplete. Alcorn State punted on its next possession with 5:55 remaining and didn't get the ball back as North Carolina A&T put together a game-ending 11-play drive.


North Carolina A&T: Other than the clock-eating final drive, the Aggies were stymied on offense in the second half, with Wilson's kickoff return bailing them out. The Aggies entered the game ranked No. 1 in the HBCU poll and No. 11 in FCS.

Alcorn State: The Braves bullied North Carolina A&T in the second half, with 258 of their 328 total rushing yards on 20 carries. They flipped the script from when these teams met in the first Celebration Bowl in 2015. In that one, they lost 41-34 when North Carolina A&T running back Tarik Cohen, now with the Chicago Bears, rushed for 295 yards.


Alcorn State played without starting wide receiver Dayall Harris, who did not make the trip to Atlanta for disciplinary reasons. The senior was the Braves' fourth-leading receiver during the regular season with 28 catches in 11 games, with four touchdowns and a team-leading 15.8-yard average per reception.


North Carolina A&T: The Aggies will replace at least seven starters on defense and at least eight on offense, including Raynard, the entire line, tight end Leroy Hill and running back Marquell Cartwright before opening the 2019 season at home against Elon and then traveling 50 miles to play at Duke.

Alcorn State: The Braves will lose at least four defensive and three offensive starters ahead of their season-opening trip to Southern Mississippi, which will be followed by a game at McNeese State.

Valdosta State: 2018 NCAA Division II Football National Champions

Ninety-six points were scored in the NCAA Division II championship game Saturday. Two points that weren't scored made the difference.

Rogan Wells tied the championship record with five touchdown passes and Valdosta State won its fourth national title with a 49-47 victory over Ferris State in McKinney, Texas.

Ferris State's rally from an 11-point deficit fell short when Jevon Shaw's two-point conversion pass sailed wide of Keyondre Craig at the back of the end zone with 40 seconds left.

"When I saw the ball high and wide, that was a great feeling," Valdosta coach Kerwin Bell said.

Ferris State coach Tony Annese said his team practiced "probably eight" different two-point plays every week during the season. The play he picked was a double reverse designed for wide receiver Shaw, a high school quarterback, to throw back to quarterback Jayru Campbell.

"We haven't used a two-point conversion this year," he said. "We're 0 for 1."

Sophomore Wells, the runner-up for the Harlon Hill Trophy for Division II's outstanding player, outplayed junior Campbell, the Hill Trophy winner.

Wells passed for 349 yards, ran for 39 and caught a 25-yard touchdown pass from backup quarterback Ivory Durham IV.

Campbell ran for 122 yards and a touchdown and had 99 yards passing and another TD. He was high on Division I recruiting lists before two arrests for assault in 2014.

Wells said the Hill voting wasn't a motivator.

"(Campbell's) a great player. He can throw it. He can run. I just wanted to come out and win the championship game."

Bell was diplomatic.

"I thought both guys deserved it."

Ferris State couldn't stop Valdosta's championship-game-record 374-yard passing attack, and the champions gave up 270 rushing yards to Ferris State.

The lead changed hands seven times before Valdosta (14-0) overcame a 34-31 deficit with two consecutive third-quarter touchdowns on passes from Wells to Joe Fortson Jr. and Travis Taylor.

In winning their first title since 2012, the Blazers overcame a missed field goal, a muffed punt, 114 penalty yards and a Ferris State pass that VSU cornerback Cory Roberts batted back into the end zone to Craig for a touchdown that pulled Ferris State to 42-38.

Valdosta stretched the lead back to 11 points when Wells lateraled to Durham and ran to the left sideline for a return pass and his touchdown. He's the first player in the championship's 46-year history responsible for six total touchdowns.

"Rogan was special at quarterback," Bell said. "Our defense made the stop at the end to win this championship."

Ferris State (15-1) missed a chance to become the first college team since 1899 to win a record 16 games in a season at any level. Amos Alonzo Stagg's University of Chicago team went 16-0-2 in 1899. Yale had two 16-win seasons in the 19th century. No team has ever finished 16-0.

In the first quarter of its first championship game, Ferris State set records for the longest pass play, 80 yards from Shaw to Craig, and longest field goal, 52 yards by Jackson Dieterle.

Craig and Valdosta's Lio'undre Gallimore each caught two touchdown passes. Gallimore had 111 yards on four catches.

Mary Hardin-Baylor: 2018 NCAA Division III Football National Champions

SHENANDOAH, Texas -- After falling to Mount Union last season in the Division III championship game, Mary Hardin-Baylor not only wanted to get back to the title game -- it wanted to beat the Purple Raiders.

The Crusaders did that Friday night.

Jase Hammack threw for 147 yards and two touchdowns, Markeith Miller rushed for 90 yards and a score and Mary Hardin-Baylor won its second title in three years, beating Mount Union 24-16.

Hammack rebounded after losing a fumble in the first quarter that led to the Purple Raiders' lone touchdown by completing 11 of 19 passes and rallying the Crusaders (15-0) from a 10-0 deficit. T.J. Josey caught five passes for 78 yards and a touchdown for Mary Hardin-Baylor, which lost to the Raiders (14-1) 12-0 last season in the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl.

"The goal since the beginning of fall camp was to get back here and have a shot at Mount Union just because of the way last year ended," Mary Hardin-Baylor coach Pete Fredenburg said. "I think it says an awful lot about these players and coaches that kept pushing and kept driving. It's incredible."

D'Angelo Fulford was 18-of-37 for 194 yards and rushed for 45 yards, and had a 1-yard touchdown run to put Mount Union up 10-0 -- the first time the Crusaders have trailed this season -- with 3½ minutes left in the first quarter. Josh Petruccelli added 57 rushing yards and Justin Hill caught five passes for 71 yards for the Raiders. Both teams finished with 303 yards.

"I thought we were fortunate to get some points on the board early," Mount Union coach Vince Kehres said. "We took advantage of the turnover there and extended a drive with the fake punt. They have a great defense. Nobody's scoring a lot of points on that defense. They executed pretty well down the stretch, and we couldn't quite finish a couple of plays."

Trailing 24-13, the Raiders cut the lead to eight on Cory Barnett's third field goal with 7 minutes left. After stopping Mary Hardin-Baylor a yard short on a fourth-and-2 at the Crusaders' 40, Mount Union's drive stalled at the Mary Hardin-Baylor 16 with consecutive incompletions with a minute left.

Following a three-and-out by Mary Hardin-Baylor, Mount Union had one last chance, but Fulford was sacked by Khevon Shepard and injured on third-and-10. Mount Union's lateral play on fourth down failed.

Hammack found Josey for a 36-yard touchdown pass, which Josey caught falling into the end zone with 1:27 remaining in the first quarter. Miller gave the Crusaders a 14-13 lead with a 2-yard touchdown run right before halftime.

"We always felt like that when you get into a game like this with so much significance, the key thing was to maintain the confidence level that we have, don't panic," Fredenburg said. "Everything is going to take care of itself. We felt like we could play with Mount Union. We felt like our team was a team of destiny."

After Anthony Avila's field goal in the third quarter, Hammack upped the lead to 24-13 midway through the fourth, finding K.J. Miller for a 16-yard touchdown pass.

Morningside: 2018 NAIA Football National Champions

DAYTONA, Fla. — Trent Solsma threw four touchdown passes, including an 16-yard scoring strike to Connor Niles with less than 90 seconds to play, to help Sioux City’s Morningside College beat Benedictine 35-28 on Saturday night at Daytona Stadium for its first NAIA championship.

Solsma, the NAIA player of the year, was 19-of-36 passing for 292 yards with two interceptions. Niles, whose 25-yard scoring catch gave the Mustangs a 34-28 win over Saint Francis in the semifinals, finished with seven receptions for 164 yards and three touchdowns. Arnijae Ponder had 134 yards rushing and a score on 30 carries for top-ranked Morningside (15-0).

Jacob Boyd broke up a pass by Solsma on fourth-and-14 to set up a 10-play, 62-yard drive capped by Frank Trent’s 1-yard touchdown run and Shaefer Schuetz hit Alex Blake for the 2-point conversion to make it 28-all with 5:49 to play. The Mustangs went three-and-out on their next possession but the defense held on Benedictine’s ensuing drive. Punter Jacob Young couldn’t handle a low snap, and Morningside’s Alex Paulson covered a short punt at the 18. Three plays later, Solsma hit Niles for the winner.

Marquis Stewart had 27 carries for 168 yards and a score for No. 7 Benedictine (13-2).