Bowl roundup: Mafah runs for 4 TDs, Clemson rallies to beat Kentucky 38-35 in a wild Gator Bowl

Clemson running back Phil Mafah (7) is congratulated by wide receiver Adam Randall (8), back, and Clemson offensive lineman Tristan Leigh (71) after scoring a touchdown against Kentucky during the second half of the Gator Bowl NCAA college football game, Friday, Dec. 29, 2023 in Jacksonville, Fla. (Corey Perrine/The Florida Times-Union via AP)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Clemson finished the Gator Bowl on Friday just like it did the season: with a flourish.

Phil Mafah ran for four touchdowns, including a 3-yarder with 17 seconds to play, and the Tigers rallied to beat Kentucky 38-35 in one of the wildest Gator Bowls to date and ended the year with a five-game winning streak.


Mafah scored three times in a back-and-forth final quarter that included five turnovers, four touchdowns and five lead changes. Clemson (9-4) outscored Kentucky 28-14 over the last 15 minutes.

“You saw who we are tonight,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “Those guys, they finished.”

Cade Klubnik made the play of the game when he connected with Troy Stellato for 16 yards on third-and-18 to set up Mafah’s fourth-down run that moved the chains. Mafah scored three plays later to put the Tigers up for good.

Kentucky (7-6) had a final chance, but Devin Leary’s first-down pass was intercepted by Justin Mascoll.

“A very difficult loss. Terrific football game,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said. “We faced a lot of adversity and overcame it. Mistakes and turnovers, penalties, there was a lot of things that you’re not very proud of.”

Mafah finished with 71 yards on 11 carries. Klubnik completed 30 of 41 passes for 264 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. He completed 8 of 9 passes on the winning drive.

Clemson trailed 21-10 after Kentucky’s Barion Brown, who scored three touchdowns three different ways, returned the second-half kickoff 100 yards. The Wildcats looked like they would roll from there, but they turned the ball over on three consecutive possessions in the fourth.

Clemson took advantage and grabbed a 27-21 lead on Mafah’s third TD run.

Brown responded with a 60-yard TD catch that put UK back out front 28-27. It was short-lived because Will Shipley returned the ensuing kickoff 60 yards to set up Jonathan Weitz’s field goal — a 52-yarder that hit the crossbar and bounced over.

“He kicked it 52 yards and one inch,” Swinney said.

The Wildcats answered, though. Leary connected with Jordan Dingle for 72 yards on the next play, setting up Ray Davis’ 1-yard scoring run.

“I’m proud to have played that game,” said Davis, who played despite turning pro. “The rest of my life I’m going to be able to remember that and be able to know that I was part of a very historical game in a sense of just back and forth and ups and downs, highs and lows and knowing whenever adversity struck, we stepped up to the plate.”

“I don’t know if I’ve ever been a part of that in a quarter before,” Swinney said. “It was special, and these guys know that.”

GRAND ENTRANCE: Clemson fans didn’t have much to cheer about in the third quarter until former Tigers stars and current Jacksonville Jaguars standouts Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne walked onto the sideline.

Lawrence and Etienne got two of the loudest ovations from the Clemson side when they were shown on the video boards shaking hands with players and coaches during a timeout with 6:31 to play in the third. The duo led the Tigers to the 2018 national championship and two more appearances in the College Football Playoff.

Sun Bowl

Notre Dame 40, Oregon State 8

EL PASO, Texas (AP) — Steve Angeli passed for 232 yards and three touchdowns, guiding No. 15 Notre Dame to a 40-8 victory over No. 21 Oregon State in the Sun Bowl on Friday.

Angeli went 15 for 19 and tossed TD passes of 8 yards to Jayden Thomas, 13 yards to Jordan Faison and 13 yards to Jeremiyah Love. The sophomore was making his first start for the Irish (10-3) in place of Sam Hartman, one of many players who opted out of the game.

“This is a moment I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” Angeli said, “but it’s really not about me. It’s about these guys around me. All those guys that have been in that room that have nurtured me, especially Sam Hartman. He’s done a great job of teaching me the ways and allowing me to come out here and have this opportunity.”

Angeli’s teammates had full confidence in the former four-star recruit.

“We knew it was coming,” receiver Jordan Faison said of Angeli. “We’re not surprised.”

Faison, the game’s MVP, had five catches for 115 yards and a score for the Irish. Running back Jadarian Price added 106 yards on 13 carries with a TD.

Notre Dame’s young players did the heavy lifting because the team had seven players — all starters — opt out of the game. That included Hartman and standout running back Audric Estime.

“We’ve got this thing called a bumpy road. This bumpy road ended really well,” Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman said. “And I’m proud of these guys. It’s a pleasure to coach them.”

Oregon State (8-5), which finished the season on a three-game losing streak, had three starters opt out and four others enter the transfer portal — including starting quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei and backup Aidan Chiles.

That left the Beavers in a tough spot against a senior-laden Irish defense that ranked eighth in the nation and limited Oregon State to 197 total yards and just two yards rushing.

The game turned for good late in the second quarter when Oregon State, trailing 7-0, tried a fake punt from midfield that was stuffed for a loss. Notre Dame then drove seven plays and pushed the lead to 14-0 with just 27 seconds left in the half on Price’s 1-yard run.

Jimmy Valsin III had the lone score for Oregon State, catching a 33-yard pass from Ben Gulbranson. Offensive lineman Tyler Voltin ran in the 2-point conversion from the wildcat formation.

That score at 6:02 of the fourth quarter cut Notre Dame’s lead to 33-8 before the Irish tacked a final TD on a 6-yard run by Chase Ketterer with 2:45 to play.

Liberty Bowl

Memphis 36, Iowa State 26

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The key number for Memphis in its Liberty Bowl victory was “zero.” Not what you might expect from the winner.

But that was the important stat. Zero Tiger turnovers. Zero Memphis penalties.

And most importantly, zero yards rushing for Iowa State.

Seth Henigan threw for 364 yards and four touchdowns and the Memphis defense shut down Iowa State’s rushing game on the way to a 36-26 victory in the Liberty Bowl on Friday night.

“I think that’s how you win pretty handily against a Big 12 opponent in a bowl game,” Memphis coach Ryan Silverfield said of the performance, citing the zeros and the performance by Henigan. “I thought it was the most complete game we’ve played all season.”

Blake Watson rushed for 107 yards as Memphis (10-3) of the American Athletic Conference amassed 530 yards of total offense and finished with at least 10 wins for the fifth time in program history.

Henigan completed 24 of 34 passes and also rushed for 27 yards and a touchdown.

The game was a rematch of the 2017 Liberty Bowl won by Iowa State 21-20. And, despite playing on the Tigers’ home field at Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium, the Cyclones were designated as the home team. Even with its home field advantage, Memphis was not expected to challenge Iowa State, and that motivated the Tigers.

“We were 10 1/2-point underdogs,” said Chandler Martin, who had eight tackles, including five tackles for a loss. “We had a chip on our shoulder. We were being very pinpointed, and everybody just wanted to win, and we expected to win.”

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