Photo courtesy of Boston College athletics
Over more than two decades, the Outback Bowl has been a mainstay on New Year’s Day. The first such game however was played in December and by a different name.
Originally the Hall of Fame Bowl, the contest debuted on this day 35 years ago and was an absolute thriller. In the end, a last-minute touchdown pass from Shawn Halloran to Kelvin Martin was the difference as Boston College edged Georgia, 27-24.
Setting the Stage
Both teams were 9-3 as they arrived at Tampa Stadium for the inaugural Hall of Fame Bowl on Dec. 23, 1986. It was the first meeting between the schools in 35 years.
Boston College was unranked, but had bounced back from a 1-3 start with seven straight wins. Georgia was ranked No. 17 and closed the regular season with rivalry wins over Auburn and Georgia Tech.
Halloran Leads a Winning Drive
Less than three minutes remained as Boston College began its final drive at its own 24-yard-line. The Eagles trailed 24-20 and were without timeouts after forcing a Georgia punt.
Boston College faced little resistance on its way inside the Georgia 30-yard-line. During the march, two calls proved critical — with one going each way.
The Eagles had appeared to have taken the lead when Halloran hit Tom Waddle for what appeared to be a 35-yard touchdown. Waddle got a foot down inbounds as he made the catch, but officials ruled he did not.
Later in the drive, Georgia appeared to have sealed the victory as Halloran’s fourth-down pass was overthrown. Despite minimal contact, pass interference was called, giving the Eagles a first down at the 17-yard-line.
Following a 12-yard completion to running back Troy Stradford, Halloran found Martin for the winning 5-yard touchdown with just 32 seconds remaining.
A Game of Runs
The game began with a Georgia touchdown and ended with one for Boston College. In between, came runs from each team.
After quarterback James Jackson’s 7-yard rushing touchdown gave the Bulldogs a 7-0 lead, Boston College responded with 20 straight points.
Two Brian Lowe field goals bookended Halloran’s 4-yard touchdown pass to Peter Casparriello and Stradford’s 1-yard touchdown run as the Eagles took a 20-7 lead to the locker room. Georgia added a field goal midway through the third, but the Eagles appeared to be on the verge of making it a 3-score game when a defensive play swung momentum.
Gary Moss’ 81-yard interception return for a touchdown cut the deficit to three. The final period was just over three minutes old when Jackson’s second touchdown run — a 5-yard scamper — gave Georgia its first lead since the opening quarter, 24-20.
Boston College dominated statistically, finishing with 427 yards to just 247 for the Bulldogs. Halloran passed for 316 yards on 31-for-52 passing. Stradford powered the ground attack with 122 yards rushing on 20 carries.
With the defeat, Georgia would finish 8-4 and unranked for the third straight season. It was the first bowl loss for the Bulldogs since 1982.
For Boston College, the win was its eighth straight as the Eagles finished 9-3 and No. 19 in the AP Poll after a disappointing 4-8 finish in 1985. The teams have met just once since then and that was also a Boston College victory in the 2001 Music City Bowl.
The annual bowl in Tampa has been played in January ever since and has gone by the name Outback Bowl since 1996. Few matchups however, were as thrilling as the inaugural game that took place on this day 35 years ago.