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4th Quarter Covers - Week 14
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NFL - Close Calls

Glancing at the scoreboard won’t tell you the whole story in most games. Here are some of the games that went down to the wire relative to the spread in the fourth quarter last week in the championship college football weekend in early December.

Each week there are several teams that cover despite not necessarily deserving it, as well as other teams that played much better than the final score shows.

USC (-3½) 31, Stanford 28: The Pac-12 championship spread bounced around from -3 to -4. The Trojans seemed to have a clear edge early with a 17-7 lead late in the second quarter and a dominant production edge but Stanford managed to complete a touchdown drive 34 seconds before halftime to trail by three. That remained the margin through three quarters with matching touchdowns before USC had the game’s only turnover. Stanford didn’t score directly after that fumble but it shifted the field position. The Cardinal eventually reached the red zone on the next possession but failed going for it on 4th-and-goal from the 1-yard-line. USC seemingly put the game away going 99 yards to lead by 10 with just over four minutes remaining but Stanford connected on three deep acrobatic catches including two on 3rd-and-long plays while also managing to recover a botched snap. The Cardinal eventually hit the end zone on a great Kaden Smith catch for 28 yards with two minutes remaining. That score locked up the underdog cover in most scenarios as USC recovered the onside kick and conservatively tried to run down the clock. With 37 seconds to go USC faced 4th-and-2 from the Stanford 32-yard-line. There was certainly no need to attempt a long field goal and punting seemed to be the common choice but the Trojans ran a pass play with Josh Falo getting the first down and running for 15 yards, finishing one tackle short of breaking through to the end zone. The Cardinal again lost by just three to narrowly cover most spreads despite a 501-343 yardage edge for the Pac-12 champion Trojans.

Troy (-1) 32, Arkansas State 25: Troy led 24-13 halfway through the fourth quarter with a kickoff return touchdown and a 100-yard interception return touchdown offsetting an eventual 293-606 yardage deficit. Arkansas State had some late fight however with the Sun Belt title on the line. The Red Wolves completed a 93-yard touchdown drive in just over three minutes, trailing by five with 2:56 remaining after missing the 2-point-conversion. Arkansas State didn’t recover the on-side kick but used its timeouts and forced a quick punt getting the ball back with still well over two minutes remaining. The Red Wolves completed a big 3rd down play near midfield and then struck for a 39-yard touchdown pass to take a one-point lead, again missing on the conversion but it was enough to put Arkansas State in position to win and cover on the late week prices. Brandon Silvers and the Troy offense completed a big 4th down play en route to scoring on a 14-yard touchdown pass with 17 seconds to go to steal the win back while claiming a share of the Sun Belt title.

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Florida Atlantic (-10½) 41, North Texas 17: The Owls dominated early and led 34-0 early in the third quarter but the Mean Green were briefly a threat to steal the cover, closing to 34-17 in the fourth quarter. Florida Atlantic converted 3rd-and-11 and 3rd-and-6 plays on the way to a late touchdown drive, aided by a face mask penalty to push the margin from 17 to 24 points to ensure the favorite cover.

UCF (-6½) 62, Memphis 55: The spread on this game was steady at 7 the majority of the week despite closing at 6½ at many outlets. The Knights took charge early with a 24-14 edge but then had three consecutive turnovers including interceptions at the one-yard-line and in the end zone as Memphis scored 17 points to take a 31-24 halftime lead. UCF again established control with a 48-34 edge with about 10 minutes to play after settling for a short field goal to go up by 14. Memphis broke a 66 yard run a few plays later and then forced the first punt of the game from the Knights. Memphis tied the game seven plays later and had the opportunity to win in regulation but missed on a long 51-yard field goal try. Both teams scored with ease in the first overtime. Central Florida took three plays to post seven in the second overtime and the struggling defense sealed the perfect campaign with an interception two plays after Memphis had converted a huge 4th-and-7 play. Most left with a push and the ‘over’ on one of the higher totals in college football history was easily cleared.

Toledo (-20½) 45, Akron 28: The Rockets claimed the MAC title with a 38-0 edge in the third quarter but the Zips clawed back for a backdoor cover. Akron scored touchdowns surrounding the shift to the fourth quarter but Toledo scored on one play to put the margin back to 31 points. Akron scored with six minutes to go and again with 20 seconds to go to lose by only 17.

Ohio State (-3½) 27, Wisconsin 21: The Big Ten championship proved to be the most exciting of Saturday’s four power five championship games and the spread results were mixed. Ohio State led 21-10 at the half with Wisconsin’s offense completely shut down but getting a pick-6 and a field goal off a fumble to stay in the game. The Badgers played better defense in the second half and managed to climb to within three points after an early fourth quarter score and a successful two-point conversion that came after a lengthy delay to repair the field in Indianapolis. The Buckeyes reached the red zone and opted to go for it on 4th-and-1 at the 13-yard-line. J.T. Barrett was initially stuffed behind the line of scrimmage but escaped to narrowly get the needed distance. A few plays later the Buckeyes opted to go the conservative route and kicked a 20-yard field goal on 4th-and-1 at the 3-yard-line for a six-point advantage, even with a common spread on the game though lines from 6½ to 3½ proved possible. After both teams punted Wisconsin had the ball back with nearly three minutes to play but were burned by a costly holding penalty and eventually wound up intercepted on 4th-and-20 as six points remained the final margin.

Florida State (-25½) 42, UL-Monroe 10: Jimbo Fisher left the Seminoles before this game but the impact on the massive spread was minimal. UL-Monroe scored 10 points in the third quarter to make it a game, trailing only 21-10. Florida State would close the game with three more touchdowns however to sneak by the heavy favorite spread while keeping the nation’s longest bowl streak alive.

  
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