- Sun, 28 Dec 2014 05:15:00 +0000: Kessler leads No. 24 USC to 45-42 win over Huskers - Top Stories
SAN DIEGO (AP) Adoree' Jackson scored on a 98-yard kickoff return and a 71-yard pass from Cody Kessler, and No. 24 Southern California blew most of an 18-point, third-quarter lead before beating No. 25 Nebraska 45-42 in the Holiday Bowl on Saturday night.
Kessler threw for 321 yards and three touchdowns for USC (9-4), which was playing Nebraska (9-4) in a bowl game for the first time.
USC stuffed De'Mornay Pierson on fourth-and-3 from the USC 31 with 2 1/2 minutes left. Nebraska had one final shot but Tommy Armstrong Jr.'s desperation pass as time ran out was knocked down inside the 10.
Armstrong had brought Nebraska back from a 45-27 deficit with a 65-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Westerkamp and a 15-yard keeper and a 2-point conversion pass to Kenny Bell.
Armstrong threw for 381 yards and three TDs.
USC had 515 yards of total offense and Nebraska finished with 525.
- Sun, 28 Dec 2014 04:31:00 +0000: Sam: Coming out was right thing to do - Top Stories
ST. LOUIS (AP) Michael Sam dismissed the thought that his sexuality has cost him a spot in the NFL.
"I don't like to think that way," Sam said in an Oprah Winfrey Network documentary that aired Saturday night. "But I do believe I'm a very talented football player and I'm going to continue working hard and try to get that opportunity to play in the league."
The first openly gay player drafted in the NFL has no regrets.
"I did everything I was supposed to do. I did everything right," Sam said. "I am proud of how I handled things."
Sam said coming out was the right thing to do. He would have preferred the news come out after he informed the team that drafted him, but he feared it would be revealed and felt pressure to control the situation.
"It didn't need to be public," Sam said. "Why do gay people have to do it?"
The production was billed as the player's first TV appearance since being cut by the Dallas Cowboys in mid-October and played like a personal "Hard Knocks." The 90-minute program was followed by a one-on-one with Winfrey, who asked Sam whether he believed sexual orientation is hurting his chances, and how long he'd keep trying.
"As long as I can," Sam replied.
The documentary details countless anxious hours during the NFL draft, which Sam called "the longest three days of my life." The New York Jets telephoned his agents to say they weren't interested, and the Cowboys texted to say they were out, too.
Sam, who rose to stardom after a difficult childhood in tiny Hitchcock, Texas, asked that the sound on the TV be turned down at one point before the St. Louis Rams took him late in the seventh round.
"Am I going undrafted?" a frustrated Sam asked agent Cameron Weiss. "This phone still has not beeped."
Sam said the reassuring hand of his boyfriend, Vito Cammisano, on his shoulder during the wait to get picked affirmed the decision last February to reveal his sexual orientation to the nation. He informed Missouri coaches and players before his senior season and was the team MVP and SEC co-defensive player of the year.
"In that moment, I was like `I don't care what happens. I made the right choice to come out,"' Sam said.
Sam broke down in sobs when Rams coach Jeff Fisher telephoned just before the team made him the 249th pick of the 256-pick draft. He had been projected to be chosen as early as the fourth round.
Sam kissed and hugged Cammisano and then the two smashed cake in each other's faces as a national television audience looked on.
"Some say the kiss, the cake, it was all just too much," Winfrey said in the voiceover prom for the program. "Some say he wasn't good enough. Others say he should have never come out, one saying during the introduction to the program that he would be the mother of all distractions."
Sam called it the "infamous kiss." He said it was spontaneous and added he'd thought the cameras had been turned off.
"Everyone made a big deal out of it," Sam said. "It's just a kiss. Did you forget that I was gay? Should I be kissing a woman instead?"
Sam was among 21 players waived by the team to reach the 53-player limit before the season opener.
Echoing his remarks after making the pick, coach Jeff Fisher said several times it was purely a football decision. The Rams were well-stocked with pass rushers, and undrafted Ethan Westbrooks grabbed the final defensive end spot.
"I will tell you this: I was pulling for Mike," Fisher said then. "I really was, and I don't say that very often. Mike came in here and did everything we asked him to do."
On Twitter, roughly an hour after he was cut, Sam thanked the Rams and the city of St. Louis. He also wrote "The most worthwhile things in life rarely come easy, this is a lesson I've always known. The journey continues."
Sam spent seven weeks on the Cowboys' practice squad before being released and is currently a free agent.
- Sun, 28 Dec 2014 02:49:00 +0000: Browns suspend receiver Josh Gordon, Manziel late - Top Stories
CLEVELAND (AP) Josh Gordon will end his troubled season just as it began - suspended.
The Browns' enigmatic wide receiver was suspended Saturday for missing a team walk-through and will miss the finale in Baltimore. Gordon, who led the NFL in yards receiving last season, served a 10-game suspension for repeated drug violations earlier this year.
A person familiar with the situation said Gordon was suspended for not showing up at a walk-through in Berea before the team flew to Baltimore. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the team has not disclosed the reason for Gordon's punishment.
Gordon's absence wasn't the only issue for the Browns.
Rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel was late for medical treatment on his injured hamstring, the person said. The Browns typically fine any player who is tardy for meetings or treatment on injuries. Manziel was placed on injured reserve this week after making two starts. The former Heisman Trophy winner is with the team for the season's final game.
Earlier this week, Manziel acknowledged he should have worked harder during his first NFL season.
"I'm not the Johnny Manziel that came in here a year ago," he said. "It's been a year of growing up for me. This is a job for me now. I have to take this a lot more seriously than maybe I did at first still going home and doing whatever I was doing in the offseason."
The Browns issued a statement about Gordon's suspension, but did not mention Manziel, whose unapologetic stance about his offseason partying raised questions about his commitment. Manziel said this week he wants to be "the guy" for the Browns, who traded up in the first round to select him in May's draft.
Manziel didn't show much on the field during his brief playing time, and the Browns have to wonder if he can stabilize a problematic position.
The Browns (7-8), who were contending for a playoff spot before losing four straight, will start rookie quarterback Connor Shaw on Sunday against the Ravens. Shaw was elevated from the practice squad Saturday. He will be Cleveland's 22nd starting quarterback since 1999.
Gordon's latest misstep has put his future with the Browns in jeopardy.
He amassed 1,646 yards receiving last season despite being suspended for the first two games for violating the league's substance abuse policy. He claimed he failed the drug test for a codeine-laced prescription cough medicine.
Since returning from his league ban this year, Gordon had caught 24 passes for 303 yards. But he also ran the wrong pass routes for former starter Brian Hoyer, who was benched in favor of Manziel. Coach Mike Pettine said Gordon needed to work harder on some plays, and the former Pro Bowler was less accessible to the media.
When he returned from his suspension earlier this season, the 23-year-old Gordon talked about wanting to make things up to the teammates who stood by him. He caught eight passes for 120 yards on Nov. 23 in his first game back against Atlanta and followed that up with seven catches for 75 yards in a loss at Buffalo.
But Gordon, whose drug suspension this year was for marijuana, has caught just nine passes in the past three games, and he has no touchdowns after scoring nine last season.
After he returned last month, Gordon said he was committed to helping the Browns win.
"I just want to control what I can control, and that's playing my hardest and working my hardest, 16 weeks next season and these last six games this season, however long I'm in Cleveland," he said. "That's just what I want to do."
He hasn't lived up to his promise.
And now the Browns may have reached a breaking point with him. They provided support for Gordon during his suspension and hoped that he would mature and fulfill his potential.
Because he didn't reach six games, Gordon will not be able to count this season toward free agency. He won't be eligible for unrestricted free agency when his current contract runs out after the 2015 season.
The Browns considered trading Gordon before the deadline last year but didn't want to give up on him for anything less than a first-round draft pick.
The team had filled Gordon's roster spot by promoting receiver Phil Bates from the practice squad. However, the team announced Saturday night that Bates did not travel with the team.
- Sat, 27 Dec 2014 21:45:00 +0000: No. 1 Kentucky holds off No. 4 Louisville 58-50 - Top Stories
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) Tyler Ulis shook off a bloody cut by his right eye to score 12 key second-half points and lead top-ranked Kentucky to a hard-fought 58-50 victory over No. 4 Louisville on Saturday.
An inadvertent elbow by Louisville's Chris Jones in the first half left Ulis with two thin bandages. He hit two big 3-pointers to give the Wildcats (13-0) a cushion in this showdown between unbeaten Bluegrass State rivals.
Fellow freshmen Karl-Anthony Towns, Devin Booker and Trey Lyles joined in to help stake Kentucky to a 50-38 lead with 4:43 left.
Towns had 10 points and nine rebounds, while Booker added nine points for Kentucky, which held Louisville (11-1) to 26 percent shooting in a game defined by defense until the Wildcats' freshmen started making their shots.
- Sat, 27 Dec 2014 02:40:00 +0000: Rutgers beats North Carolina in Quick Lane Bowl - Top Stories
DETROIT (AP) North Carolina coach Larry Fedora knew that his team was going to have to play a very good game to beat Rutgers in the Quick Lane Bowl.
That didn't happen, and the Tar Heels looked like the team that was blown out 35-7 by North Carolina State in its last game.
"I'm very disappointed with what we did in the last few games of the season, and especially in these last two," Fedora said after the Tar Heels' 40-21 loss Friday night at Ford Field. "We're going to have to take a long look at some things."
The final score was misleading. North Carolina (6-7) trailed 40-7 midway through the fourth quarter before a successful onside kick helped the Tar Heels add two late touchdowns.
"The game of football is pretty simple," Fedora said. "If you give away the ball on offense, don't force any turnovers on defense and make multiple game-changing mistakes on special teams, you aren't going to win football games."
Tar Heels quarterback Marquise Williams was never able to get going, although he did throw for one score and run for another.
"They did exactly what we expected them to do in every phase of the game," Fedora said. "We just didn't stop them."
North Carolina's biggest problem was freshman running back Josh Hicks, who ran for 202 yards and a touchdown.
"This is a childhood dream come true," said Hicks, the MVP trophy sitting just above him in his locker. "It is just now hitting me what happened out there. Our O-line was just so good today - they were opening lanes, and all I had to do was hit them.
Senior Gary Nova threw for 184 yards and two touchdowns, and freshman Robert Martin ran for 100 yards and two scores to help the Scarlet Knights (8-5) cap their first Big Ten season.
"I saw the predictions before the season, so I knew what the public perception of our team was, especially going into the Big Ten," Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said. "But I have always believed that this was going to be a competitive team that was going to play in the postseason, and we proved that all year."
Owned and operated by the NFL's Detroit Lions, the bowl replaced the Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl, which had been played in Detroit under various names since 1997. The new bowl was hoped to make a bigger impact with a Big Ten vs. ACC matchup, but drew a disappointing crowd. The announced attendance was 23,876 - smaller than all but one Pizza Bowl - and the actual crowd appeared to be less than half of that.
"We knew this was going to be a challenge," said Tom Lewand, president of both the Lions and the bowl. "When you partner with the Big Ten and the ACC, you know you will get some geographic diversity, and we knew there would be travel challenges for supporters around the holidays."
Rutgers led 40-7 before the Tar Heels scored twice in the final 7 minutes. North Carolina also had two second-half touchdown passes taken away because of interference penalties.
The Scarlet Knights lost the coin toss, but got the ball when North Carolina deferred. They only needed 2:17 to take the lead, with Nova hitting a wide-open Andre Patton for a 34-yard touchdown strike.
North Carolina got into Rutgers' territory its first two drives, but turned the ball over on the first and punted on the second. The Tar Heels blocking a punt to take over at the 30, but the drive stalled at the 5 and a fake field goal was buried for a 4-yard loss.
The Scarlet Knights answered with a 91-yard drive that ended with Hicks' 21-yard run that made it 14-0 early in the second. Rutgers then turned another Tar Heels fumble into a quick touchdown - Martin's 8-yard run - but missed the extra point, leaving it 20-0.
The Tar Heels missed a field goal, then shanked a punt 20 yards, allowing Rutgers to kick a 19-yard field goal that made it 23-0 at halftime.
Williams got North Carolina on the board with a 1-yard run, but the Scarlet Knights came back with a 34-yard pass from Nova to Andrew Turzilli to make it 30-7. Martin's second touchdown run - this one from 28 yards - gave Rutgers a 30-point advantage early in the fourth.
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