Former Local High School Star Breaks Records in Rose Bowl

Former Local High School Star Breaks Records in Rose Bowl
Jaxon Smith-Njigba (11) scores a touchdown past Utah cornerback Kenzel Lawler (2) during the first half in Saturday's Rose Bowl in Los Angeles, CA. | Image from AP Photo

In a wild Rose Bowl game, the No. 6 Ohio State Buckeyes were victorious, defeating the No.11 Utah Utes 48-45. Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba had a historic day, setting the record for any bowl game with 347 receiving yards and setting an Ohio State school record with 15 catches in a bowl game. He also added three touchdowns, including scoring receptions of 50 and 52 yards for the Buckeyes, who set a Rose Bowl record with 683 total yards of offense.

Smith-Njigba broke the school’s record for receiving yards in a bowl game in the first half alone; the record was previously held by Cris Carter’s 172 yards receiving in a 1985 bowl game. After halftime, he snapped the Rose Bowl record of 216 yards receiving set in 1996 by Keyshawn Johnson, and the Ohio State school record for receiving yards in a single game set in 1995 by Terry Glenn with 253 yards.

Smith-Njigba’s spectacular performance is not surprising to North Texas football fans, who have known his name for several years. Smith-Njigba attended Rockwall High School and quickly showed exceptional talent as a wide receiver with multiple highlight-reel catches

As a freshman in 2016, Smith-Njigba made Rockwall’s varsity team, which is extremely rare in 6A-Division I football. He would only see the field sparingly his freshman season, finishing with eight catches for 105 yards on the season. 

He broke onto the scene with 81 catches for 1,299 yards and nine touchdowns in his sophomore season. In his next two years, he only got better with 97 catches for 1,828 yards and 20 touchdowns as a junior, and 85 catches, 2,182 yards, and 34 touchdowns in his senior year.

Smith-Njigba was vital to Rockwall’s run to the 2019 state semifinals, where the team would fall to Duncanville. In that year’s second round of the playoffs, Smith-Njigba produced another excellent performance, with 15 catches for 252 yards and five touchdowns in a thrilling 60-59 upset win over Allen at AT&T Stadium. 

Smith-Njigba finished his high school career third all-time in catches (271), receiving yards (5,414), and touchdowns (63), according to Texas Football. He was rated as a 5-star recruit by 247Sports and the No. 29 overall prospect in the nation for the class of 2020. He was committed to attending Ohio State University since November 2018. In his freshman season with the Buckeyes, Smith-Njigba did not see much action but made a sensational highlight-reel catch that went viral. 

Now, he helped Ohio State (11-2) win the Rose Bowl for the second time in four years. Ohio State trailed by ten points in the third quarter but rallied to take a 45-38 lead in the fourth quarter. Smith-Njigba and quarterback C.J. Stroud were instrumental to the late Buckeyes rally. 

With 4:22 left in the game, Stroud, who passed for a school record 573 yards and a record-tying six touchdowns, found Smith-Njigba for a 30-yard, over-the-shoulder catch for his third touchdown to take the seven-point lead. Utah (10-4) drove down the field for a game-tying touchdown with 1:54 left. Then, Stroud led the team on a 56-yard drive ending in a 19-yard field goal with nine seconds to play for the win. 

Ohio State appears to have a bright future, with Stroud and Smith-Njigba returning next season. Both have proven themselves as two of the best players in the nation, with room to be even better.

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