It was Feb. 23 when the Cougars fell to DeSales in the MAC Freedom women’s basketball championship. Since then, Misericordia graduated five seniors, including starters Rachel Carmody and Japriya Carroll. The curveball they face comes from losing two underclassmen starters, Kalynn Sefcik and Paige Wampole, as well.

“For us, we didn’t just lose two players (Carroll and Carmody), we lost five seniors and two underclassmen starters,” Misericordia head coach Jason Rhine said. “We have 13 percent of our scoring back which is rare in college basketball. The message for our team this year is clear, show us that you can put the ball in the hoop, and you’ll have a chance to contribute.”

Misericordia will look a lot different this year, with just five players returning. Tessa Zamolyi, Erica Haefele, Jordan Barth, Emma Hayes and Nora Tracey are the only players back for Rhine and the Cougars.

“Normally there are only a few newcomers. We are the complete opposite of most teams because we have 10 newcomers and five returners,” Rhine said. “Everything we do this year will have to be someone stepping up and being asked to take on bigger/different roles.”

Despite the new faces for Misericordia, the Cougars were still picked to finish second in the MAC Freedom in the coaches poll, receiving one first-place vote.

The Colonels are also a much different team coming into this season. Two seasons ago, Wilkes had its second straight season without a conference win. Since Tara Macciocco away from Marywood to coach the Colonels, there is a different aura surrounding the team.

“We have a very young group this year which includes six freshmen,” Macciocco said. “They are all working very hard and it has helped raise the competition level.”

“We are much more athletic this year and we are much bigger,” Macciocco said. “We have seven post players that we are splitting opposed to last year splitting guards in the post.”

Wilkes returns all but two starters from last season after Gab Giordano and Ashley Caster graduated. Gianna Roberts, Maddie Kelley, Alyssa Alfano, Kenda Smith and Gabby Smicherko all played significant minutes for the Colonels last season. In addition to returning those minutes, Wilkes introduced six new freshmen to the program.

“The energy level has been outstanding,” Macciocco said. “And the returners have done a great job of keeping everybody on the same page.”

Roberts, Alfano, Sierra Smith and Amber Grohowski are the program’s four seniors on the team this season.

The incoming freshman class is also expected to have an impact. Macciocco has high praise for the newcomers and has high expectations.

“They are going to play significant minutes for us but with freshman you have to expect the learning curve and the ups and downs,” Macciocco said. “Brianna Horton, a freshman point guard from Verona, New Jersey, has the potential to be one of the best point guards in the league. Katelyn Kinczel, from Cleveland, and Macy Berryman from Pocono Mountain East are both shooters that will have an impact.”

King’s is coming into the 2019-2020 season with momentum from an appearance in the MAC Freedom playoffs. The Monarchs graduated two seniors, Alexis Steeber and Lindsey Dippre, but return Mackenzie Yori, Rebecca Prociak and Kayla Dilinger.

“The next step for us is to be more consistent in our performances throughout the year,” King’s head coach Caitlin Hadzimichalis said. “For the first time since taking over, we have seniors who have played for us for four years and using that experience on the court will be invaluable.”

Last year, the Monarchs had a “big three” consisting of Prociak, Steeber and Yori. With two of the three coming back, the Monarchs don’t expect to miss a beat. Prociak averaged 16.5 points per game to lead the Monarchs, and Yori followed with 14.9, only .1 behind Steeber for second on the team in points per game.

“We’re really impressed with Samantha Rajza this preseason,” Hadzimichalis said. “Rajza has stepped up her leadership which makes everyone around her better on and off the court.”

Rajza started eight games last year as a freshman and finished fourth on the team in points per game with 9.3. With Dippre graduating, Rajza slots into the starting lineup.

“Rotation wise, there are a lot of minuets out there. The plan is to give whoever is ready an opportunity to step up,” Hadzimichalis said. “Some of our returning players came back to campus in the best shape they’ve ever been in. It is up to our coaching staff to put them in situations where they can be successful within our style of play.”

The Monarchs finished fourth in the conference last season and are picked to finish fourth again in the coaches poll behind DeSales, Misericordia and the newcomers Stevens.

“We have focused on having a tough strength of schedule, so the roster, especially the seniors, have logged a ton of minuets in many different scenarios during their careers,” Hadzimachalis said.

LEHMAN TWP. — With the swelling in her eye pretty much subdued, Liv Moore set her sights on rallying Holy Redeemer back.

She swooped in at the last minute and plucked away a Lake-Lehman pass, then drilled a running 3-pointer to close the third quarter.

Moore’s pivotal play ignited a big finish and Sam Yencha scored 13 of her game-high 23 points in the final quarter Monday as Redeemer snatched away a 53-48 girls basketball victory over the Black Knights, along with first place in the Wyoming Valley Conference Division 2.

“Especially going into the fourth quarter with that,” Yencha said of Moore’s shot, “it was so much momentum for us.”

The Royals used the adrenaline rush to out-score Lehman 19-13 over the final period to snatch a game that, save for a few brief periods in the third quarter, Lehman had pretty much led throughout.

But Moore, sporting a blackened right eye that she said was swollen shut after enduring a collision in a non-conference battle Saturday, proved a game-changer.

With Lehman holding a four-point lead, she swooped in to steal an inbounds pass just in front of the half court line, took a couple dribbles, and heaved up a 35-foot floater with time about to expire in the third quarter.

“I knew there was like two seconds left,” Moore said. “I did my best form and pushed it was hard as I could and I sent up a prayer. But I knew it was going in.”

It was the third 3-pointer of the game for Moore, a star volleyball player who is in the process of deciding whether to attend Jefferson University or California of Pennsylvania to play her main sport next season.

“I think that was the momentum-changer,” Holy Redeemer coach John Jezorwski said. “She got the steal and the 3-point shot.

She matched Yencha with a team-high nine rebounds and finished with 17 points, but showed a prowess from the 3-point line Moore hadn’t previously shown — and opponents may not have known about.

“Me either, to be honest,” shrugged Moore, a senior who hadn’t played basketball since the 8th Grade. “I’m usually not (a 3-point shooter). They were leaving me wide open. I hit the first one, then I hit the second one. I had a lot of confidence in myself tonight.

She drove the inside, drew fouls, and hit 11 of her 13 free throw attempts in the fourth quarter — and converted 13 of her 16 tries for the game.

“Lately, I’ve been struggling with free throws,” said Yencha, who explained how hard she’s been working on them in the gym with her father. “I make them with my dad, but struggle in the game.”

Yencha, who had a quiet first half with two points, finished up by sinking the final four points of the game from the foul line in thelast 16 seconds to put the game out of Lehman’s reach.

“They’re definitely our biggest competition this side of the conference,” Yencha said of the Black Knights. “They’re very physical and aggressive. We have seen a team like that in awhile. It caught us by surprise.”

Lehman jumped out early, as Sarah Salus popped five points in a game-opening 7-2 run and Chase Purdy scored 10 of her team-high 19 points in the first half to give the Black Knights a 23-21 lead at the break.

Purdy scored six more points in the third quarter and had Lehman in a 35-31 lead in the final seconds of the period, until Moore swooped in for her game-changing play.

“Gritty game,” Jezorwski said. “Two good teams that are really trying to find themselves. That Purdy girl is tough. They have a great team.

HOLY REDEEMER (53) — Karissa Spade 3 0-0 6, Alesha Pekarovsky 1 0-0 2, Sam Yencha 5 13-16 23, Liv Moore 5 4-6 17, Aubrey Curley 2 0-0 4, Jillian DelBalso 0 0-0 0, Aleia Atherton 0 1-2 1, Mia Ashton 0 0-0 0, Faith Sekol 0 0-0 0. Totals 16 18-24 53.

LAKE-LEHMAN (48) — Lia Keefe 3 2-4 8, Claire Dougherty 4 0-0 8, Chase Purdy 9 1-8 19, Madison Brdaric 0 0-0 0, Sarah Salus 3 2-2 9, Hailey Kline 1 2-4 4, Kathryn McIngvale 0 0-0 0. Totals 20 7-18 48.

Good luck finding any team in the country that notches a better pair of road wins in the same week than Baylor, which followed up a victory at Texas Tech by invading Allen Fieldhouse and thumping Kansas on its home floor.

As a result? The Bears leapfrogged the Jayhawks and Duke into the second spot in The Associated Press men’s college basketball poll on Monday. They finished with 1,567 points in voting by 65 media members who regularly cover the game, just seven back of top-ranked Gonzaga — even though Baylor had 31 first-place votes and the Bulldogs had 30.

“I think to have a special team you first need to have that work ethic, you need to have that character, but most of all you have to have guys that buy into roles and celebrate each other’s success,” Bears coach Scott Drew explained. “As the year has gone on we’ve done better and better at that. We call it ‘playing with joy.’ If you do that, good things happen.”

Great things, as a matter of fact. Baylor (13-1, 3-0 Big 12) hasn’t lost since playing Washington in Alaska in its second game of the season. Along the way, the boys from Waco, Texas, have notched nonconference wins over ranked teams Villanova, Arizona and Butler along with league wins over the Red Raiders, the Jayhawks and Texas.

The win over Kansas was the first for Baylor in 18 tries at Allen Fieldhouse and the first over a top-five team on the road.

“We came with the expectation to win, the expectation to do great things in the Big 12,” Baylor guard Jerad Butler said, “and it shows when you expect to win versus just trying to survive.”

The Blue Devils fell to third in the AP poll, followed by unbeaten Auburn and Butler. The Jayhawks were next with another unbeaten, San Diego State, staying at No. 7. Oregon, Florida State and Kentucky rounded out the top 10.

The Wildcats climbed four spots by squeezing out tougher-than-expected wins over Georgia and Alabama.

“I’m telling you, I believe in every one of these kids. I wouldn’t have recruited them here. But I’ll tell you, it’s really hard here,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “Every game we play is someone’s Super Bowl.”

The biggest climb came from Wichita State, which jumped seven spots to No. 16 after soundly beating new No. 22 Memphis and turning back Connecticut in double overtime. The Shockers’ only loss came against No. 12 West Virginia in the championship game of the Cancun Classic in late November.

“We are at 15 wins now and I don’t even know when we got that last year, so the jump has been crazy,” said Shockers guard Erik Stevenson, who leads the team in scoring. “National recognition is cool and all, but we feel like we’ve been slept on for a while now. We feel like we could beat anybody in the country.”

The biggest fall by a team that remains in the poll came from Ohio State, whichdropped two more games — to Maryland and Indiana — to make it four consecutive losses. The Buckeyes were once in the top five but are now No. 21.

“We have to find a way to figure some things out here quickly,” Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said. “You know, I think it’s a work in progress right now. I think we definitely have some offensive issues that we have to work out.”

West Virginia climbed five spots to No. 12 by following a tough road loss to Kansas with wins over Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. Colorado also jumped five spots to No. 20 after the Buffaloes throttled Utah 91-52 in its only game of the week.

Ohio State wasn’t the only Big Ten team to take a tumble. Michigan State dropped seven spots to No. 15 after the Spartans were pounded 71-42 at Purdue, and Penn State fell from No. 20 all the way out of the poll after the Nittany Lions lost consecutive games to unranked teams in Wisconsin and Rutgers.

Seton Hall returned to the poll at No. 18 thanks to back-to-back wins over Xavier and Marquette that ran the Pirates’ record to 4-0 in the Big East. A pair of newcomers in Illinois and Creighton rounded out the Top 25, and Virginia and Arizona joined the Nittany Lions in falling out. The Cavaliers lost to Boston College and the Wildcats fell to Oregon State last week.

HONOLULU — Two weeks in Hawaii brought rain, unusually strong wind, playoffs and two players who thought victory was out of reach until the winner’s lei was draped around their necks.

He might have been even more surprised than Justin Thomas, who got a second chance when he won a playoff at Kapalua.

“Two or three holes left, I really didn’t think there was much of a shot,” Smith said after his playoff victory over Brendan Steele on rain-soaked Waialae Country Club. “I knew I had to play some good golf. It just kind of all fell into place.”

Smith was 4-over par just two holes into the tournament Thursday, and his focus turned to making birdies that would give him a chance to salvage his round and raise money for the wildfires in his native Australia. Smith and Marc Leishman had pledged $500 for every birdie to help raise money.

He twice pulled within shot of the lead at various points Sunday, but it looked like a lost cause when Steele had a two-shot lead with two holes to play.

“I thought I had to birdie 17 and then do something really good on 18,” Smith said. “You never know what can happen.”

Just about everything did in the final hour, which is about how long it took to play the last two holes. It rained every day since Tuesday, and the rain was so steady on Sunday the PGA Tour moved the hole location from its traditional spot to higher ground, and the green still had to be rolled with sponges between groups.

In the group ahead, Simpson’s wedge into the par-5 18th skipped off sheen of water and settled 15 feet behind the hole for a birdie attempt he narrowly missed. He shot 67.

Palmer never even had that opportunity. His fairway metal from a bunker sailed so far right that he hit the metal railing atop a massive video screen, sailed well to the right of the corporate tents and was lost, presumably in a back yard. He had to go back to the bunker and made bogey for a 68.

Steele was trying to figure out what happened to Palmer, and then he did the opposite. He pulled a 2-iron so wildly to the left that it was near the ropes lining the 10th fairway. After a free drop, he hit wedge off the muddy lie to 30 feet, taking a reasonable birdie putt out of the equation. His par gave him a 71 and opened the way for Smith.

The 26-year-old Australian delivered with a long bunker over the forming puddles to 8 feet, and Smith poured it in for a 68 to force the second straight playoff in Hawaii, and the third straight dating to end of last year.

Steele, who led by as many as three shots when he holed a bunker shot for birdie on the 11th, made no excuses for his approach to the 18th.

“Lie was good, water was fine,” he said. “It’s just a 2-iron to win a golf tournament. Just a hard shot.”

Equally hard was the playoff hole, which was No. 10 because of the water on the 18th green. Steele again looked to have the advantage with a great drive that left him 88 yards away in the fairway, with Smith over by the trees in the right rough. Smith chased a shot low and onto the green to 10 feet.

Steele, so used to having a blast of wind in his face on that hole, tried to get a shot to the back tier toward the pin, because anything less would spin back to the lower tier. Instead, it sailed over the green, he chipped some 15 feet by the hole and missed his par putt.

And there was Smith, who an hour or so earlier had stood on the 17th tee wondering how he could win from two shots behind, and now was two putts and 10 feet away from a PGA Tour victory he could call his own.

He twice won the Australian PGA Championship. He shared a team title with Jonas Blixt three years ago in New Orleans.

“My first individual win on the PGA Tour, it’s definitely going to be one I never forget,” Smith said. “Given the conditions and how tough it was, I’ll draw back on this in the future.”

For the week, Smith made 21 birdies for $10,500 toward the Australian fires relief fund, along with other contributions from the PGA Tour and $125,000 from the International team at the Presidents Cup.

“We’re a tight-knit family and it hit everyone pretty hard,” he said. “It’s good to do something good, and hopefully puts a smile on their face.”

HOUSTON — Astros manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow were fired Monday after the pair were suspended by Major League Baseball for the team’s sign-stealing during Houston’s run to the 2017 World Series title and during the 2018 season.

In the sport’s largest scandal since the Biogenesis drug suspensions in 2013, Commissioner Rob Manfred announced the discipline Monday and strongly hinted that current Boston manager Alex Cora— the Astros bench coach in 2017 — will face equal or more severe punishment. Manfred said Cora developed the sign-stealing system used by the Astros. The Red Sox are under investigation for sign stealing in Cora’s first season as manager in 2018, when the Red Sox won the World Series.

Houston was fined $5 million for sign-stealing by the team during its run to the 2017 World Series title and during the 2018 season — the maximum allowed under the Major League Constitution. The Astros will forfeit their next two first- and second-round draft picks.

In addition, former Astros GM Brandon Taubman was suspended through the World Series for his conduct during last year’s AL Championship Series, when his profane remarks directed at female reporters led to his firing by Houston, which at first denied the incident and later apologized.

Manfred said owner Jim Crane was not aware of the sign stealing. An hour after MLB announced its decision, Crane opened a news conference by saying Hinch and Luhnow had been terminated.

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Aaron Rodgers connected with Davante Adams eight times for 160 yards and two touchdowns, Green Bay’s spruced-up defense fended off a spirited Seattle rally, and the Packers held on for a 28-23 victory Sunday night to reach the NFC championship game for the third time in six years.

Aaron Jones rushed for 62 yards and two first-half scores for the Packers (14-3), who will travel next weekend to take on top-seeded San Francisco.

Russell Wilson carried the Seahawks (12-6) on yet another comeback, this time from a 21-3 halftime deficit, but the Packers forced a punt just before the two-minute warning on the second sack of the game by Preston Smith. That was Green Bay’s fifth of the game. Za’Darius Smith, the other big-money free agent added to the defense last spring, had two sacks himself.

Rodgers sealed the win with two third-down throws: first a 32-yard pass to Adams on third-and-8 with 2:19 left and then 9 yards to Jimmy Graham on third-and-9 right after the two-minute warning to take down a Seahawks team that was 8-1 on the road this season entering the game.

Rodgers exacted some payback for five years ago, when the Packers blew a 16-0 halftime lead in the NFC championship game at Seattle and lost 28-22 in overtime. The Seahawks haven’t been back to the conference title game since, let alone the Super Bowl. Rodgers is running out of time faster than Wilson, though, nine years after his only championship.

The Seahawks had just a plus-seven scoring margin during the regular season, making quite the habit of second-half rallies. Wilson did some of the finest work of his eight-year career in 2019, helping the Seahawks stay on track despite a steady stream of injuries, including the late setbacks in the backfield that prompted the emergency call for Marshawn Lynch.

Racking up 64 yards rushing on seven scrambles and completing 21 of 31 passes for 277 yards, Wilson directed touchdown drives of 69, 84, 79 right out of the gate after halftime. Lynch finished two of them with scores, and Wilson threw to Tyler Lockett for the other one.

Lynch’s second touchdown with 9:33 left cut the lead to 28-23, but Jaire Alexander blew up the 2-point conversion attempt with a sack on an unblocked blitz. The Packers gave the ball back to the Seahawks with a second consecutive punts, this time with 4:54 left at the Seattle 22, but Wilson ran out of tricks in his seemingly bottomless bag of them.

The Seahawks brought their pass rush to life with seven sacks while grinding out a 17-9 win at Philadelphia last week in the wild card round, with Jadeveon Clowney making his presence felt including a hit that knocked Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz out of the game with a concussion. The Packers mostly kept Rodgers much better protected, though.

The Packers had three touchdown drives of 75 yards apiece over the first three quarters, plus a 60-yard march preceded by a missed 50-yard field goal try from Jason Myers.

Rodgers hasn’t had much help beyond Adams and Jones this season, but he and coach Matt LaFleur did a masterful job of getting them the ball with some Tyler Ervin and Jimmy Graham mixed in. On the opening possession, Adams and Geronimo Allison ran angled routes toward each other before faking the pick and zagging away. Seahawks cornerback Tre Flowers was caught in the confusion, allowing Adams to break free for the 20-yard score.

Seahawks fans have plenty of bad memories of their favorite team’s performances in Green Bay, with the losing streak at Lambeau Field now at nine straight games. The last such win for Seattle was on Nov. 1, 1999.

There was the hot mike that picked up Matt Hasselbeck’s ill-fated boast during the overtime coin toss that the Seahawks would win, preceding his pick-six in the 2003 playoffs. There was the blowout in the snow in the 2007 playoffs, which turned out to be Brett Favre’s final win for the Packers. There were also the regular season losses with Wilson in 2015, 2016 and 2017.

Seahawks: LG Mike Iupati was out with a neck injury, and Jamarco Jones left in the second quarter with a concussion. That forced rookie Phil Haynes into action. … Clowney, who has fought through a core muscle injury this season, was holding his midsection in the second quarter and briefly absent for the first TD run by Jones. … Backup DEs Ziggy Ansah (neck) and L.J. Collier were inactive, and DE Quinton Jefferson left with a foot injury in the third quarter.

Packers: RT Bryan Bulaga, one of six players the team reported this week as being limited by illness, was active for but did not play. Jared Veldheer replaced him. … FB Danny Vitale (ankle/illness) was inactive. … WR Allen Lazard hurt his ankle in the second quarter after Jones collided with the back of his right leg.

Seahawks: head into the offseason, needing replenish their depth on the offensive line and on defense while Wilson remains in his prime.

Packers: advance to their third NFC championship game in six years. They lost 37-8 on Nov. 24 to the 49ers, who beat Minnesota 27-10 on Saturday in their divisional round game.

NEW YORK — Kyrie Irving scored 21 points in 20 minutes of an easy return from a two-month absence with an injured right shoulder, leading the Brooklyn Nets to a 108-86 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday.

Irving shot 10 for 11 from the field after missing 26 games with an impingement. The shoulder looked fine and his handle looked as good as ever while he dribbled his way around a hopeless Atlanta defense.

Energized by his return that still seemed a ways away just a week ago, the Nets led by 39 points and won their second straight after dropping seven in a row.

Cam Reddish scored 20 points for the Hawks, who played without star guard Trae Young because of a left hamstring injury and lost their fourth straight.

Taurean Prince scored 14 points for the Nets, who made it such an easy night that their fans didn’t need to worry about the scoreboard as they roared for Vince Carter’s two 3-pointers in the fourth quarter. The 42-year-old former Nets star finished with eight points in his final road appearance against the franchise.

Irving began feeling pain in his shoulder early in the season, and he took himself out of the lineup after a game in Denver on Nov. 14. The Nets held up well without him for a while thanks mostly to Spencer Dinwiddie’s strong play, but had faltered recently and struggled especially in crunch time.

Irving got a cortisone shot on Dec. 24, revealing last weekend his options were that or surgery. He gave no indication then he was close to returning, but participated fully in practice this week.

He started alongside Dinwiddie to share the playmaking responsibilities and did most of his scoring near the basket, making the only 3-pointer he attempted. The Nets were already leading 70-46 at halftime before he went 5 for 5 for 10 points in a dazzling six-minute stretch of the third quarter.

WASHINGTON — Bojan Bogdonovic scored 31 points, Rudy Gobert added 21 points and 14 rebounds and Utah beat Washington for its ninth straight victory.

Utah overcame a 15-point deficit in the third quarter to win for the 14th time in 15 games. Jordan Clarkson had 17 of his 23 points in the second half. Utah scoring leader Donovan Mitchell sat out because of an illness.

TORONTO — DeMar DeRozan scored 25 points, Rudy Gay had 15 and San Antonio overcame an 18-point deficit to beat Toronto.

San Antonio used a big fourth quarter to win for the third time in four games. Derrick White scored 13 points for the Spurs, and LaMarcus Aldridge had 11. DeRozan also had eight rebounds and four assists against his former team.

Serge Ibaka had 21 points and a season-high 15 rebounds for Toronto. Kyle Lowry had 16 points and a season-high 15 assists.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Jonas Valanciunas had 31 points and a season-high 19 rebounds and Memphis handed Golden State its eighth straight loss.

Valanciunas was 13 of 17 from the field, including a 3-pointer to help the Grizzlies win their fifth straight. Jaren Jackson Jr. finished with 21 points, and Ja Morant had 11 points and 10 assists.

NEW YORK — Julius Randle scored 26 points, RJ Barrett chipped in 23 and New York rallied to beat Miami.

Kevin Knox had 17 points off the bench and Reggie Bullock added 16 to help the Knicks snap a five-game losing streak.

Jimmy Butler had 25 points and 10 rebounds for the Heat. They blew a lead down the stretch for the second time

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Patrick Mahomes stalked up and down the sideline like a field marshal rallying his troops, the brilliant young quarterback imploring the Kansas City Chiefs to stay together even as the Houston Texans were on the verge of taking them apart.

The Chiefs already faced a 24-0 hole, bigger than any deficit they had overcome in franchise history.

“The biggest thing I was preaching,” Mahomes said later, “was, ‘Let’s go do something special. Everybody is counting us out. Let’s go out there and play by play put it out there.’ And play by play, we did what we were supposed to do.”

Beginning with the first of his five touchdown passes, Mahomes and the Chiefs slowly chipped away at Houston’s seemingly insurmountable lead. They continued to pick up momentum, outscoring the Texans 28-0 during the second quarter alone, and eventually reeled off 41 consecutive points before cruising the rest of the way to a 51-31 victory Sunday that propelled Kansas City back to the AFC championship game for the second consecutive season.

In doing so, the Chiefs (13-4) became the first team in NFL history to win a playoff game by at least 20 points after trailing by at least 20. They matched the fourth-biggest comeback in playoff history while winning a postseason game in back-to-back seasons for the first time. Travis Kelce and Damien Williams scored three touchdowns apiece, joining the 49ers’ Jerry Rice and Ricky Waters in Super Bowl 29 as the only teammates to score that many times in a postseason game.

Meanwhile, Mahomes led by example as much as by voice. He finished with 321 yards passing, becoming the first player in postseason history with at least 300 yards passing and five touchdowns while running for at least 50 more yards.

“You saw him going up and down the bench, he was talking to everybody, — ‘Just settle down,’” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “As a head coach, you can’t ask for more than that. When he’s the leader of your team and he’s going, ‘Hey, we’re going to be fine. Let’s not wait for the fourth quarter. Let’s go!’ And he did that.”

Now, after losing to the Patriots in overtime in last year’s conference title game, the Chiefs are back on the brink of their first Super Bowl appearance in 50 years. They will host Tennessee next Sunday in a rematch from earlier this season after the Titans upset Lamar Jackson and the top-seeded Baltimore Ravens on Saturday night.

“We’ve already played them and we know they’re a tough team,” Mahomes said. “They’re a team that battles all the way until the end. They’re a team that’s really hot, playing really good football right now, so we know it’s going to take our best effort. And, whatever way, we’ve got to find a way to win.”

Deshaun Watson, meanwhile, threw for 388 yards and two touchdowns while running for another, but not even his heroics could bail out the Texans (11-7) after their calamitous second quarter and dismal third. The result: The reborn Houston franchise is 0-4 in the divisional round and has never won a road playoff game.

“I definitely thought we were going to have to score more than 24,” said Texans coach Bill O’Brien, who made a series of debatable calls during the collapse. “I think that they’re, obviously, a very explosive team and it just didn’t work out.”

The Chiefs certainly gave Houston a chance to end their frustrating playoff streak in the first quarter.

On defense, Kansas City blew coverage on Kenny Stills on the opening possession, allowing him to walk into the end zone from 54 yards. On offense, they wasted timeouts, dropped a series of easy passes and managed just 46 yards. And on special teams, the Chiefs had a punt blocked for a score and fumbled a return that set up another touchdown.

Indeed, the Texans kept humming right along after finishing on a 22-3 run to beat Buffalo last week, while the mountain of miscues made by the Chiefs made them only the fourth home playoff team to trail 21-0 after the first quarter.

Things turned around on a series of plays — and a call by O’Brien in particular — that will be debated for a while.

After the Texans stretched the lead to 24-0 early in the second quarter, the Chiefs began to nip into their deficit with a quick touchdown drive. And the comeback really gained momentum when O’Brien called for a fake punt at the Houston 31-yard line and the Chiefs stuffed it, giving them a short field and setting up another easy touchdown.

“We had that play ready for a variety of different teams and situations,” said the Texans’ Justin Reid, who took the snap and was stopped short of the first down. “Credit to them, they made the play.”

On the ensuing kickoff, Houston return man DeAndre Carter had the ball pop loose and into the arms of Darwin Thompson, whose recovery set up a second Mahomes-to-Kelce touchdown in a matter of seconds. And their third came after the Chiefs forced a punt — a successful one, for a change — and they drove 90 yards to take a stunning 28-24 halftime lead.

“I mean, it was an amazing thing. Everything was working,” Mahomes said. “The play calls were open, everybody was getting open against man-coverage which we’ve been preaching all season long, and guys were making plays.”

The Chiefs breezed downfield to start the second half, and Williams finished the drive with his first TD run. Their overhauled defense under coordinator Steve Spagnuolo sacked Watson on fourth down to get the ball right back, and Mahomes and Co. required just six more plays to position Williams for another TD run and a 41-24 lead.

The 41 consecutive points, spanning most of the second and third quarters, were the most since the Jets had the same against the Colts in the 2002 wild-card round.

Even when the Texans finally cracked the scoreboard, when Watson scrambled to his left and dived over the pylon, the Chiefs rendered the touchdown moot. In four plays they went 72 yards to set up the fifth TD pass by Mahomes, the strike to little-used tight end Blake Bell giving coach Andy Reid’s team a postseason-record seven straight TD drives.

It also gave a festive crowd that turned out early in freezing weather and a slight drizzle a chance to celebrate early.

“We’ve got full confidence not only in the players but the game plan going into it. Just got to deal with what’s going on in the game — what’s real and what’s not — and what was real was we were hurting ourselves early,” Kelce said. “With that, you just rally the troops, lean on the leaders of this team and make plays. That’s what we did.”

Houston played without S Jahleel Addae (hamstring) and TE Jordan Akins (hamstring). They also lost RT Chris Clark to a knee injury early in the game, and backup Roderick Johnson struggled against the Chiefs pass rush the rest of the game.

Kansas City sat defensive tackle Chris Jones, who strained his calf muscle late in the week and couldn’t make it through pregame warm-ups. WR Tyreek Hill left briefly after a hard hit but eventually returned to the game.

The Texans will spend the offseason wondering how they let a 24-0 lead slip away, and the Chiefs will begin preparing for the Titans in the AFC title game. Kansas City lost lost 35-32 at Tennessee in Week 10, when Derrick Henry ran for 188 yards and two touchdowns against them. It was the Chiefs’ most recent loss.

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Trevion Williams scored 16 points and Purdue relied on a staunch defense Sunday to upset No. 8 Michigan State 71-42.

The Boilermakers (10-7, 4-3 Big Ten) snapped a two-game skid by picking up their second win this season over a Top 10 foe. They also beat defending national champion Virginia on Dec. 4.

Cassius Winston finished with 10 points to lead the Spartans (13-4, 5-1) but also had nine turnovers as Michigan State’s eight-game winning streak ended. The Spartans, who were 4 1/2-point road favorites, hadn’t lost since Dec. 3. They produced their lowest point total of the season and were held almost 40 points below their season scoring average of 81.3.

The Boilermakers scored the first five points then seized control with a 12-0 run that gave them a 19-4 lead.

MINNEAPOLIS — Daniel Oturu scored a career-high 30 points and Minnesota went on a late 11-0 run to beat Michigan.

Marcus Carr had 21 points and 12 assists for Minnesota (9-7, 3-3 Big Ten), while Alihan Demir scored 13 points.

Zavier Simpson had 19 points and nine assists for Michigan (11-5, 2-3). Franz Wagner scored 17 points.

Eli Brooks hit a 3-pointer with 3:20 to play to put Michigan ahead 65-64. But Oturu answered on the other end with a basket in the low post to give Minnesota the lead for good with 3 minutes left.

TAMPA, Fla. — Precious Achiuwa had 22 points and 11 rebounds and Memphis rallied from a 14-point second-half deficit to beat South Florida and stop a two-game losing streak.

Tyler Harris finished with 17 points for the Tigers (13-3, 2-1 American Athletic Conference), who held USF (8-9, 1-3) scoreless from the field over the final 6:37. Lester Quinones scored 13 for Memphis, which trailed 51-37 with 13 minutes left.

Achiuwa’s three-point play gave Memphis its first lead since midway through the first half, and the 6-foot-9 freshman from Queens, New York, put the Tigers ahead for good, 63-61, with 1:40 remaining.

HARTFORD, Conn. — Wichita State blew a nine-point lead in the final minute of regulation but outlasted UConn in double overtime.

Jaime Echenique led four Wichita State players in double figures with 19 points before fouling out. Dexter Dennis and Erik Stevenson each scored 16 for the Shockers (15-1, 3-0 American Athletic Conference), who have won nine straight games.

Wichita State seemed to have the game in hand, leading 69-60 with just over a minute left after a pair of free throws from Stevenson.

But the Huskies’ pressing defense forced several turnovers including a shot-clock violation. Sidney Wilson’s 3-pointer from the left baseline tied the game at 69, and he blocked Dennis’ shot to force overtime.

BOULDER, Colo. — Tyler Bey and Evan Battey recorded double-doubles and McKinley Wright IV had 16 points, eight assists and seven rebounds as Colorado routed Utah.

Wearing 1960s throwback uniforms, the Buffaloes (13-3, 12-1 Pac-12) put an old-fashioned whooping on their rivals, racing out to a 44-22 halftime lead and never letting up in the second half.

Sophomore forward Timmy Allen, who leads the Pac-12 in scoring at 21.1 points per game, had seven of Utah’s first nine points but didn’t score again. Riley Battin led the Utes (10-5, 1-2) with eight points.

Bey finished with 11 points and 13 rebounds and Battey had 17 points to go with 10 boards. D’Shawn Schwartz added 14 points for Colorado.

TUCSON, Ariz. — Sabrina Ionescu had 17 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists for her 22nd triple-double, extending her NCAA record and leading No. 2 Oregon to a 71-64 win over No. 18 Arizona on Sunday.

The Ducks (14-2, 3-1 Pac-12) had a rare lapse in poise during a loss to Arizona State on Friday night, allowing the Sun Devils to charge back from a 12-point deficit in the fourth quarter.

Oregon found itself in a similar position at McKale Center, building a 13-point lead midway through the third quarter.

The Ducks kept their composure when Arizona made a run by getting the ball inside or into the hands of Ionescu.

TEMPE, Ariz. — Ja’Tavia Tapley scored 14 points, Robbi Ryan and Reili Richardson added 10 each, and Arizona State got its second straight upset.

The victory finished a memorable weekend for the Sun Devils (13-4, 3-2 Pac-12), who also beat No. 2 Oregon 72-66 on Friday night. It also capped a tough week for the sport’s elite teams: No. 1 UConn, Oregon and Oregon State all lost and there will almost certainly be a shakeup in the national rankings on Monday.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Zia Cooke scored 17 points, and South Carolina got into position for a possible move up to No. 1 for the first time this season.

Top-ranked UConn lost to Baylor on Thursday night. No. 2 Oregon lost to Arizona State on Friday night, and Arizona State upset No. 3 Oregon State 55-47 earlier Sunday.

The Gamecocks (16-1, 4-0 Southeastern Conference) came in and simply dominated from the start on their way to a 10th straight win.

WACO, Texas — NaLyssa Smith had career highs with 30 points and 15 rebounds, powering Baylor to another big win.

The Lady Bears (13-1, 2-0 Big 12) have won 47 consecutive home games, now the longest streak in the nation. UConn had won 98 in a row at home until Thursday, when the Lady Bears won 74-58 in Hartford, Connecticut, to give the Huskies their worst home loss in 14 years.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Dana Evans scored 20 points, helping Louisville to its eighth consecutive victory.

The Cardinals (16-1, 5-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) also got a solid performance from Jazmine Jones, who scored 10 of her 18 points in the fourth quarter.

Louisville scored 28 points off 18 Wake Forest turnovers while improving to 6-0 all-time against the Demon Deacons.

Ivana Raca had 16 points and 10 rebounds for the Demon Deacons (10-6, 3-2), and Christina Morra had 13 points and 13 rebounds.

BOULDER, Colo. — Michaela Onyenwere had 19 points and seven rebounds, and UCLA held on for the victory.

The Bruins (16-0, 5-0 Pac-12) led by 25 in the third quarter but sweated out the victory. Colorado’s Jaylyn Sherrod missed a contested 3-pointer just before the final buzzer.

Mya Hollingshed scored 17 points for the Buffaloes (13-3, 2-3), who have lost 15 consecutive games to top-10 teams.

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Elissa Cunane recorded her ninth double-double of the season as hot-shooting North Carolina State beat Notre Dame.

The 6-foot-5 Cunane, averaging a double-double coming into the game, had 22 points on 8-of-10 shooting and 10 rebounds in 25 minutes for coach Wes Moore’s Wolfpack (15-1, 4-1 Atlantic Coast Conference). Jada Boyd scored 16 points, and Kayla Jones had 15.

Katlyn Gilbert scored a career-high 25 points for the Fighting Irish (6-11, 1-4), who suffered their fifth straight home loss and seventh of the season at Purcell Pavilion, both low marks for Hall of Fame coach Muffet McGraw in her 33 seasons.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Nausia Woolfolk scored 21 points and Nicki Ekhomu had 20, leading Florida State to the victory.

Florida State used a 9-0 run to push the lead to 17 early in the fourth quarter. The Seminoles (15-2, 4-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) shot 57% for the game and made 10 of 14 free throws in the fourth quarter.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Kathleen Doyle had 31 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds, and Iowa beat Indiana in double overtime.

Iowa (13-3, 4-1 Big Ten) extended its home win streak to 30 games and moved into a three-way tie with Indiana and Rutgers atop the conference standings.

The Hoosiers have lost 20 consecutive road games against Iowa, dating to a 63-59 win at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Feb. 20, 1994.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Rhyne Howard had 22 points after a slow start, and Kentucky pulled away for the victory.

Howard was 7 of 10 for 18 points in the second half. Chasity Patterson finished with a career-high 20 points for the Wildcats (14-2, 3-1 Southeastern Conference).

Kiara Smith had 16 points for the Gators (11-6, 2-2), but freshman Lavender Briggs was held to two points, ending her streak of double-figure games at 14. Florida had 25 turnovers.

CHICAGO — Sonya Morris had 17 points and 11 rebounds, and DePaul rallied for its sixth consecutive victory.

Deja Church added 15 points and 10 boards for the Blue Demons (15-2, 5-0 Big East), who trailed 50-47 heading into the fourth quarter.

Qadashah Hoppie topped St. John’s (10-7, 3-3) with 20 points. Alissa Alston scored 19, and Leilani Correa added 16 points and eight rebounds.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Blair Watson hit six 3-pointers and scored 20 points, helping Maryland to the road win.

Ashley Owusu added 18 points and Diamond Miller scored 15 for the Terrapins (12-4, 3-2 Big Ten), who also beat the Wolverines 70-55 on Dec. 28. T

MORGANTOWN, W. Va. — Tynice Martin scored 23 points, Kysre Gondrezick added 21 and West Virginia earned its ninth straight win.

Martin and Gondrezick combined to score 20 of 21 West Virginia points in the fourth quarter. West Virginia (13-1, 3-0 Big 12) went 13 for 19 from the line in the fourth after making 5 of 13 through the first three.

Sug Sutton scored 18 points for Texas (9-6, 1-2). Charli Collier had 11, and Joyner Holmes finished with nine points and 10 rebounds.

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Abby Hipp scored 15 points for Missouri State on 7-of-10 shooting, and Alexa Willard finished with 12.

Alexis Tolefree scored 13 points for the Razorbacks (14-3, 2-2 Southeastern Conference). Taylah Thomas had 10 points and 11 rebounds.

Hayley Frank scored 19 points for the Tigers (4-13, 1-3), who had won seven straight in the series. Aijha Blackwell had 18.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Rennia Davis scored 17 points, and balanced Tennessee earned its second straight victory.

The Lady Vols (13-3, 3-1 Southeastern Conference) shot 52% (28 for 54) from the field. Jordan Horston scored 14 points, Tamari Key had 13 and Lou Brown finished with 12.

Georgia (10-7, 1-3) shot 39% (23 for 59) in its third consecutive loss. Maya Caldwell scored 13 points, and Gabby Connally had 11.

NEW ORLEANS — Trouble off the field caused LSU senior linebacker Michael Divinity to miss the majority of one of the most extraordinary football seasons in school history.

The team’s 2018 co-leader in sacks even briefly quit the team in early November. But he decided to come back about two weeks later, knowing his remaining punishment would prevent him from ever playing college football again unless LSU advanced all the way to Monday night’s national championship game.

“I love these guys so much. I love football so much,” Divinity said this weekend as the national title tilt between No. 1 LSU (14-0, No. 1 CFP) and No. 3 Clemson (14-0, No. 3 CFP) approached.

“I could have went and declared (for the NFL draft) and started training, but that’s not what my heart wanted,” Divinity continued. “I just wanted to stay with the team and be a part of it, and if I got the opportunity to play, I’ll play. And if I didn’t, I’d still be joyful just to be part of the team with them. It helped me stay positive, along with my family and friends.”

LSU has not publicly explained the nature of the team violation that triggered Divinity’s suspension this season. Divinity also has elected to discuss his personal struggles in general terms.

“It was a hard time. I was going through a lot, dealing with a lot. I had to take a step away back from football, focus more on just me myself personally, fixing myself as a young man, and focus on graduating, which I did. It’s just finding myself again, finding the ability to be the Michael I was before all the things that was going on.”

The 6-foot-2, 241-pound Divinity has missed nine of LSU’s 14 games this season, partly because of an ankle injury but mostly because of his suspension. But in the five games he did play, he had four tackles for losses and three sacks.

Coach Ed Orgeron announced Divinity had left the program on Nov. 4, the Monday before LSU visited Alabama for one of the most anticipated games of college football’s regular season.

The 21-year-old Divinity watched LSU’s thrilling 46-41 victory over the Crimson Tide from his home in the New Orleans area as his 1-year-old daughter played nearby.

“She was just running around the house and I’m screaming at the TV, standing up the whole time, and she’s just looking at me like, ‘Daddy, what are you doing?’” Divinity recalled. “Just being able to see them and watch them play, even if I was there or not, I felt the energy.”

Divinity returned to the team Nov. 18, two days after LSU’s victory at Mississippi. He had to sit out LSU’s final two regular season games against Arkansas and Texas A&M, as well as the Southeastern Conference championship against Georgia and the Peach Bowl, which doubled as the College Football Playoff semifinal, against Oklahoma.

“Michael had a chance to go out early (for the NFL draft) last year. He wanted to come back. He wanted to finish his career at LSU,” Orgeron said. “He had a bump in the road. He paid his penalty, and he came back. So it tells you a lot about his character, tells you a lot about his grit and who he is.”

Divinity said the even while he was away from teammates, “I still was engaged with them, still being a leader. They were texting me asking me certain things and I would help them. … It kept me positive.”

LSU edge rusher K’Lavon Chaisson said Divinity’s presence in the lineup “changes a lot” for an opposing offense.

“You can’t slide one way. You can’t chip one way. If you do that all towards me, Divinity will win his one-on-one battles,” Chaisson said. “And his body is fresh — fresh as possible — so he can go all game.”

LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda said his impression is that players’ respect for Divinity has only gone up since his return to practice eight weeks ago.

“So they’re excited that he’s in this situation. I know I am,” Aranda said. “I want to see him do well.”

Now Divinity finishes his career with the biggest game in which he’s ever played, for the college team he’s been with for four years, and in his home town.

“It’s wonderful just being able to play again, my last college football game here in New Orleans,” Divinity said. “I’m taking advantage of it.”

The Sunday before the College Football Playoff championship game a news conference is held with the head coaches. They compliment each other’s team and talk about focus and preparation. After, they shake hands and pose for photographs with the trophy that goes to the winner.

This was Swinney’s third time doing the dance, always as the team trying to derail a dynasty. Now his Tigers are on the cusp of joining exclusive in college football history.

No. 3 Clemson (14-0) will try to become the fourth team since The Associated Press began crowning college football national champions in 1936 to win three titles in four seasons when it faces No. 1 LSU (14-0) on Monday night at the Superdome.

“They know,” Swinney said of his players. “They’re very well aware of what they’ve been able to achieve. And listen, regardless of what happens in the game tomorrow night, it’s really been a historic run. To win two out of the last three national championships is amazing.”

To win the first two, Clemson upset Alabama twice in the championship game. The Tigers also lost twice to Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide in the playoff, including in the 2015 final.

In those previous Sunday-before-the-final news conferences, it was often Swinney — who grew up in Alabama and played on the Tide’s 1992 title team — being asked to put Saban’s unprecedented tenure in Tuscaloosa into perspective.

Fast forward to Sunday and it’s Clemson that has put itself in position to match one of Alabama’s greatest accomplishments. The Crimson Tide was the last team to win three championships in four seasons, winning BCS titles in 2009, ‘11 and ‘12. The Tide has won five championships in 13 seasons under Saban.

Nebraska, under coach Tom Osborne, won national titles in 1994-95 and then shared the championship in 1997 with Michigan after being voted No. 1 in the final coaches poll.

Notre Dame won three in four seasons in 1946-47 and ‘49, being crowned the champs by the AP each time.

The playoff makes teams go through two quality opponents to earn a championship. The Tigers were the first major college football team in the modern era to go 15-0 last year and will have to do it again to repeat, beating two undefeated opponents in Ohio State and LSU along the way.

A victory Monday night in front of what will unquestionably be a partisan crowd in LSU’s backyard will make Clemson the seventh major college program since 1950 to win at least 30 straight games.

The last team to win back-to-back national titles with a perfect record was Nebraska in the mid-90s. Those Cornhuskers played a total of 25 games.

Swinney has often complained this season that his team hasn’t received the respect it deserved while running roughshod through the Atlantic Coast Conference. Clemson was the first AP preseason No. 1 to end the season No. 3 despite not losing a game since it happened to Alabama in 1966.

Swinney turned perceived slights into fuel for his team. Clemson is a verified college football superpower, but the Tigers remain upstarts, still with something to prove in their minds.

“Ever since I’ve been at Clemson that’s how it’s been,” All-America linebacker Isaiah Simmons said. “We always get the, ‘We don’t play anybody,’ this and that.

So Clemson is embracing that narrative entering this championship game as underdogs again. LSU is about a six-point favorite behind Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow and a record-breaking offense.

The senior who transferred from Ohio State in 2018 is on pace to break the FBS record for completion percentage at 77.6. He has thrown for 5,208 yards and 55 touchdowns. Burrow can become the first Heisman winner to win the national title since Alabama’s Derrick Henry helped the Tide beat Clemson in the 2015 title game, and the first Heisman winning quarterback to win it all since Florida State’s Jameis Winstion in 2013.

Burrow is the odds-on favorite to be the first player selected in the next NFL draft. The quarterback on the other side, Trevor Lawrence, is already the front-runner to be No. 1 overall in 2021.

“A winner, very quick release, very well-coached, outstanding feet, knows where to go with the ball, can run,” Orgeron said, rattling off what makes Lawrence so good.

No matter what happens Monday night, Clemson will begin next season as one of the favorites to win the national title. The 50-year-old Swinney also just signed the highest-rated recruiting class he has ever had in 10 seasons at Clemson.

“I think when you focus on that, you’re focusing on the magnitude of the moment and you lose the joy of the moment,” Swinney said. “That’s all we try to focus on is just being great where our feet are and just have some fun doing what we do to get ready.”

WILKES-BARRE TWP. — The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins sent their largest crowd of the season home happy and prepared to hit the road.

Kevin Roy scored the game-winning goal, Casey DeSmith put up a 25-save shutout Saturday night and the Penguins stopped the Eastern Conference’s top team cold in a 3-0 victory.

“This team’s the top team in the league,” Penguins coach Mike Vellucci said. “We didn’t give them a sniff offensively. Our D was really good tonight. All the young guys played really well, and Casey made a couple saves when he needed to.”

The defense played well while going without Jon Lizotte, the team’s plus/minus leader, who was held out by Vellucci for precautionary reasons after taking a hit to the hit in a big collision Friday night.

David Warsofsky, the team’s 29-year-old captain, was joined by Macoy Erkamps, Niclas Almari, Matt Abt, Michael Kim and Pierre-Olivier Joseph, a group with an average age of 23, on the blue line.

The Penguins came into the final game of a six-game homestand on a five-game losing streak, but they had allowed just a goal in 65 minutes during Friday’s 2-1 shootout loss to Hershey. After a shutout before a season-high crowd of 7,353 at Mohegan Sun Arena, they have not been scored on in more than 104 minutes.

“We played unbelievable team hockey,” DeSmith said in his on-ice first-star interview. “We kind of got it started (Friday). We had a real solid defensive game (Friday).”

“He was very strong when he needed to be,” Vellucci said. “I thought he was very square to the puck and he controlled his rebounds. When they were shooting, he was putting the rebounds up in the glass or up in the netting like we want him to. He was exceptional.”

The teams were scoreless beyond the midpoint in the game until the forechecking of Sam Miletic and Chase Berger worked the puck free. Roy gained control in the slot, glided backward to the right circle before firing off a wrist shot for the goal.

Warsofsky and Anthony Angello, who scored his team-high 15th of the season, had unassisted, empty-net goals in the final 1:03 to put the game away.

Warsofsky stole a pass just outside the blue line, hesitated to make sure he did not carry the puck in offsides, then got close to the top of the left faceoff circle before ripping a slap shot off one Hartford player and past another, who tried to get between him and the goal.

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (18-15-3-3) remained sixth in the eight-team Atlantic Division, but closed the gap on the teams in playoff position above them by beating first-place Hartford (23-9-2-5).

The Penguins will be away from the Mohegan Sun Arena until Jan. 31 at 7:05 p.m. when they host the rival Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Vellucci said the team will leave Monday for its trip, which includes two games each against the Texas Stars, San Antonio Rampage and Charlotte Checkers, beginning Wednesday.

NOTES: Roy and Warsofsky were the second and third stars. … The Penguins are 28-7-2-1 against the Wolf Pack since 2012. … The upcoming road trip is the longest of the season for the Penguins.

Second Period — 1, Penguins, Roy 5 (Miletic, Berger), 18:12. Penalty — Abt, Penguins (hooking), 14:10.

Third Period — 2, Penguins, Warsofsky 4 (unassisted) 18:57 (EN); 3, Penguins Angello 15 (unassisted) 19:48 (EN). Penalty — Lettieri, Hartford (tripping), 4:44.

Goalies — Hartford, McCollum 0-1-0 (25 shots-24 saves). Penguins, DeSmithh 11-10-2 (25 shots-25 shots).

They were supposed to be playing today, in the Divisional round of the NFC Playoffs, and McGovern was supposed to help them get there.

At least that’s what the Cowboys thought when they made the former Lake-Lehman High School and Penn State star offensive lineman their third-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.

McGovern never made it to the field after tearing pectoral muscles on two separate occasions before preseason games even started.

And that torrid 3-0 start the Cowboys opened the season with fizzled into an 8-8 record that left them out of the playoffs.

Jason Garrett, the head coach who drafted McGovern last season, was fired after missing the postseason in six of his nine full years on the job.

“I’m really grateful he saw something in me and drafted me,” McGovern said. “But you learn coming into this league, it’s a business. You’ve got to do what the owner thinks best.”

Owner Jerry Jones, desperate for the team’s first Super Bowl title in 25 years, replaced Garrett as the head coach of the Cowboys with former Green Bay Packers Super Bowl winner Mike McCarthy.

“I’m absolutely fine with it,” McGovern said. “It’s my first coaching staff that’s ever been changed. From what I’m reading and what I know, it’ll be interesting.”

The Packers fired McCarthy in the middle of the 2018 season, so he wasn’t around to conduct interviews and gauge talent when McGovern participated in the NFL Combine following his junior season at Penn State last April.

But from his work in years past, McGovern can’t help but get charged up about playing for his new boss.

“Growing up,” McGovern said, “you look back, the Packers have always been one of the top, if not the top, winning percentage teams in the NFL and Mike McCarthy built that. I just think he brings an old-school mentality.”

“Since I started playing, I missed a game once, with a concussion, my freshman year of college,” McGovern said.

During one of the Cowboys mini-camps, McGovern suffered a torn minor pectoral muscle while extending his arm across his body doing a punch drill — a short, quick burst offensive linemen use to gain leverage on charging defenders they’re blocking.

“I was just punching across, I kind of felt a pain in my chest,” McGovern said. “I thought it was just sore.”

It turned out to be a tear of the minor pec muscle, a triangular muscle that allows arm movement from one side to the next, which shut him down for a bit.

At the start of training camp, McGovern tried to punch again, and got punched back by an agonizing pain.

“Second practice back,” McGovern said. “It felt like a knife cutting through the top of my chest. I came back a little too early, but I wanted to show myself.”

He wound up missing the season with a torn major pectoral muscle — which makes up most of the muscles in the chest.

“It was a clean tear,” McGovern said. “They couldn’t operate because there was nothing to attach it to. It took four months before I could even do a pushup.”

He saw his teammates make a postseason push, but a pair of three-game losing streaks during a 5-8 finish, including a 17-9 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, ultimately cost the Cowboys the NFC East.

They lost starting left guard Connor Williams with a season-ending torn ACL on Thanksgiving and lost this replacement, Xavier Su-a-Filo, to a broken leg in the second half of that Dec. 22 loss to the Eagles. Before that, the Cowboys were without left tackle Tyrone Smith, who was recovering from an ankle injury in Week 5 against the Packers, and then had right tackle La’el Collins leave a game against the Detroit Lions with a knee injury in Week 11.

McGovern initially worked at all five positions on the offensive line when he arrived in Dallas, then concentrated on guard and center — the two spots where he started at Penn State — before being listed as a backup center for depth purposes at the start of training camp.

“That was the biggest struggle at first,” McGovern said, “watching the rest of the team practice. But I tried to look at it as a redshirt year, which I never had in college. A grew a lot mentally and physically.”

“I was in every (team and unit) meeting, watching like that,” McGovern said. “All the veterans on the offensive line were very helpful. (Cowboys center) Travis (Frederick) was a great example for me. He’s one of the smartest people, on and off the field, I’ve ever met in my life. I was watching how he took notes, learning what he saw in different defenses, different schemes.”

McGovern is confident that knowledge will only improve his chances of making an impact with the Cowboys. And he’s certain the Cowboys believe he’ll be an integral part of the team’s offensive unit under McCarthy’s leadership.

“I think they definitely do,” McGovern said. “We don’t know if anyone’s going to retire. I give them a lot of security. I can play anywhere on the line, that gives them a lot of options.”

“It’s kind of the same as coming into your freshman year of college, where the guys are a lot better than what I saw in high school,” McGovern said. “In college, you might see one guy or two per team who’s an elite player. Now, every single guy is an elite player from each school. Everybody is talented, everybody’s elite.

“The biggest thing is how big of a mental game it is,” McGovern continued. ” It’s all about watching film, learning their (opponents’) techniques, getting a leg up on them. It could be the difference between finishing a block or letting the guy run over the top of you.”

If McGovern learned anything from his first NFL season, it’s that he’s ready to run with the big boys.

“I think I’m definitely ready for this league,” McGovern said. “From what I’ve seen so far I think I have a very good shot of coming out and having success with these guys.”

Paul Sokoloski covers area sports for the Times Leader. You may reach him at 570-991-6392, at or on Twitter @SokoloskiSports

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NANTICOKE — City police arrested two people and are looking for another person deemed a person-of-interest in a string of Nanticoke burglaries that have taken place in recent months. William Davis McDowell, 32, and Erika […]

President Donald Trump is readily criticized, by the media, during the impeachment hearings, and by letters to the editor. However, for me none of these arguments contain convincing facts. The facts which do convince me […]

WASHINGTON — Before our national attention span flits heedlessly toward impeachment, the Iowa caucuses and Megxit, it’s worth pausing to remember that the United States was on the brink of war with Iran last week. […]

I told this story several years ago in this column, but I thought about it again this weekend when discussing how long it takes to become a fully certified doctor. When I was an intern […]

Two weeks from now, thousands of Pro Life teenagers will converge on the nation’s capital to rally in support of the unborn at the 47th annual March for Life. Unfortunately, many people are uncomfortable with […]

Everyone deserves a second chance, and third and fourth if they are truly trying to change for the better. Mike Marsicano proved in a mere matter of minutes he does not deserve yet another crack […]

WILKES-BARRE — The swearings-in are complete, let’s hope the swearings-at do not commence. As all local municipalities prepare to go about the business of making their communities better, now is not the time for raucous, […]

As chairman of the Luzerne County Republican Party, I am writing today to offer my reflections on the article that appeared in Thursday’s edition of the Times Leader titled “Uncivil Discourse.” In November, the voters […]

I am writing to respond to the Times Leader Our View Editorial that was published on Jan. 5 in the Times Leader The article states that, your view is, that if the newly formed Luzerne […]

Diamonds to new Wilkes-Barre Mayor George Brown and to new Luzerne County Council members Kendra Radle and LeeAnn McDermott for trying to set a new tone in our frequently mean-spirited political discourse. Brown took office […]

David Horowitz is one of America’s most respected conservative leaders; Horowitz is author of several New York Times best sellers, including the Radical Son. I recently read his latest work Dark Agenda: The War to […]

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Mitch McConnell will be taking an oath before the trial in the Senate regarding removal of corrupt President Donald Trump. He will take an oath promising he’ll be impartial and consider all the evidence before […]

On the front page of today’s edition, there is a story about students at Wyoming Area Secondary Center being asked to take Rachel’s Challenge. With all the laws and initiatives named for victims, it can […]

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