Zach Line scored on a short touchdown run in overtime and Richard Crawford followed with the game-ending interception to help Southern Methodist beat East Carolina 45-38 on Friday, clinching a spot in the Conference USA championship game.
Line scored on a 1-yard run to start the overtime for the Mustangs (7-5, 6-2), then Crawford came up with the huge defensive play by stepping in front of Lance Lewis and catching Dominique Davis' quick throw.
The play sent SMU players spilling onto the field to celebrate with Crawford, who after being tackled raced all the way to the end zone with his teammates in pursuit. Meanwhile, Lewis stayed on the ground, his face buried in the turf.
Line ran for 123 yards and also had a fourth-quarter touchdown for SMU, which rallied from a 14-0 first-quarter deficit but also blew a 38-24 lead in the final 10 minutes against the Pirates (6-6, 5-3).
SMU earned at least a share of the West Division championship with the victory, though the tiebreaker favored the Mustangs over Tulsa and sent them to next week's league title game against either Central Florida or Southern Mississippi.
Tulsa played Southern Miss later Friday.
Kyle Padron threw for 331 yards and three touchdowns for the Mustangs, while Cole Beasley and Aldrick Robinson each had 100-yard receiving days to go with a score. Ja'Gared Davis also returned a fumble for a touchdown in a 21-point third quarter that kept the Mustangs in control for most of the second half before the Pirates staged their own rally to force overtime.
Davis scored on a 9-yard run with about 5 minutes left to cut SMU's lead in half, then the Pirates forced a three-and-out to get the ball back once more with 2:39 left. They drove all the way to the 7-yard line before Davis sent a short pass on the left side to Lewis, who took a hit by Crawford and Chris Banjo at the goal line and fell into the end zone with 12 seconds left to tie it.
Jon Williams ran for two touchdowns for East Carolina, while Davis threw for 314 yards. But after getting off to a fast start, the Pirates' spread offense struggled for yardage and to extend drives to expand their early lead while the Mustangs seemed to get better as the game wore on.
East Carolina entered the day with slim hopes of returning to the league championship game and pursuing a third straight C-USA crown. But the Pirates had to win this one, then have Southern Miss beat Tulsa and Memphis beat Central Florida on Saturday to create a three-way tie atop the East Division.
SMU, facing the much simpler win-and-in scenario, took all the complex tiebreakers out of the equation with that dramatic finish.