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The Most Explosive Quarters in College Football History

North Carolina and Appalachian State's thrilling, 62-point fourth quarter definitely makes the list.
Miller Gibbs, Appalachian State Mountaineers Football

Appalachian State tight end Miller Gibbs' touchdown catch against North Carolina was one of NINE scores in the fourth quarter alone of their game on Sept. 3, which the Tar Heels won 63-61.

North Carolina and Appalachian State collectively scored 62 points in the fourth quarter of their game on Sept. 3. Was this the most explosive quarter in college football history? Let’s take a look.

Before we dive in, it is important to define just what exactly qualifies as "explosive." Of course, a lot of points have to be scored, but both teams also have to run the risk of losing. For example, Hawaii and San Jose State combined for 61 fourth-quarter points in 1999, including an NCAA-record 29 in a minute and 34 seconds. Yet the Rainbow Warriors maintained a lead of at least 16 points throughout that entire period.

In addition, the stakes have to be high with both teams giving each other all they can handle so no one-sided quarters make this list. To put this in cinematic terms, the bank robbery shootout in "Heat" is explosive, while every other skirmish in that movie is fairly one-sided.

With that in mind, here are the five most explosive quarters in college football history.

5. Colorado 31, Tennessee 31 (35 fourth-quarter points)

Aug. 26, 1990 – Anaheim, Calif.

The first Pigskin Classic was fairly low-key for the first 50 minutes with Colorado leading 17-10. Then Dave McCloughan returned a punt 55 yards for a touchdown to put the Buffaloes up 24-10. Tennessee scored less than a minute later with a 24-yard touchdown catch by Alvin Harper to cut the lead to seven. On a later possession, Colorado quarterback Darian Hagan pitched the ball to Mike Pritchard, who sprinted down the sidelines for a 78-yard touchdown run to take a 31-17 lead with 7:11 remaining. Tennessee answered with two touchdowns, a 14-yard reception by Carl Pickens and a four-yard run by Chuck Webb, to tie the game with 2:25 to go. The Vols got the ball back with 30 seconds remaining and made it all the way to the Buffaloes' 16-yard line, but Webb was tackled as time expired. Colorado went on share the national title with Georgia Tech.

4. Navy 74, North Texas 62 (63 second-quarter points)

Nov. 10, 2007 – Denton, Texas

The Mean Green led 21-10 going into the second quarter and recovered a fumble early in the period. Each of the next eight possessions ended in a touchdown and Navy scored again on a three-yard Zerbin Singleton touchdown run with 13 seconds remaining to go into halftime trailing 49-45. The Midshipmen then took the lead midway through the third quarter and never lost it again. The 63 points in the second quarter and 94 in the first half are modern college football records.

3. Alabama 45, Clemson 40 (40 fourth-quarter points)

Jan. 11, 2016 – Glendale, Ariz.

In the College Football Playoff National Championship, Clemson led Alabama 24-21 going into the fourth quarter. The Crimson Tide tied the game at 24-24 with a 33-yard Adam Griffith field goal with 10:34 remaining and then Nick Saban surprised the Tigers by opting for an onside kick that Alabama recovered. Jake Coker hit O.J. Howard with a 51-yard touchdown pass to take the lead 49 seconds later. While the Tide never trailed again, Clemson would not quit. Deshaun Watson threw a 24-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Leggett with 12 seconds left to cut the lead to 45-40, but Alabama recovered the ensuing onside kick to win the national title.

2. North Carolina 63, Appalachian State 61 (62 fourth-quarter points)

Sept. 3, 2022 – Boone, N.C.

The Tar Heels had overcome a 21-7 deficit to lead 41-21 going into the fourth quarter, but Appalachian State outscored UNC 28-7 during a span of a little more than eight minutes to tie the game at 49-49 with four minutes to play. Drake Maye hit D.J. Jones with a 42-yard touchdown pass with 2:50 remaining to put the Tar Heels back up 56-49 and the Mountaineers responded with a 28-yard strike from Chase Brice to Deshaun Davis with 31 seconds left. However, the two-point try was unsuccessful and then UNC's Bryson Nesbit returned the onside kick 43 yards for a touchdown to take a 63-55 lead. The Mountaineers returned the kickoff to the UNC 48-yard line and scored two plays later, but the Tar Heels tackled Brice just shy of the goal line on the two-point conversion and escaped Boone with their first road win since 2020.

1. Texas 41, USC 38 (32 fourth-quarter points)

Jan. 4, 2006 – Pasadena, Calif.

The 32 points may be the lowest of any quarter on this list, but the 2006 Rose Bowl is arguably the greatest game in college football history. USC led 24-23 going into the fourth quarter and then extended its lead to 38-26 when Matt Leinart threw a 22-yard scoring strike to Dwayne Jarrett with 6:42 remaining. Longhorns quarterback Vince Young then accounted for all 69 yards on the next drive that culminated in a 17-yard touchdown run by him. Texas then stopped Trojan running back LenDale White on fourth down to get the ball back on its 44-yard line with 2:09 to play. That drive ended with Young’s famous eight-yard scoring sprint for the win and the Longhorns’ first national title since 1970.  

— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports' Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.