EditorsNote: Adds quotes, more detail
Trevor Lawrence threw 34 yards to Travis Etienne for the go-ahead score with 1:49 left, as No. 3 Clemson rallied for a 29-23 victory over No. 2 Ohio State in the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Ariz., on Saturday.
The defending champion Tigers (14-0) went 94 yards in four plays after forcing an Ohio State (13-1) punt. Ohio State then drove to the Clemson 23, but Justin Fields was intercepted by Nolan Turner in the end zone — after an apparent miscommunication with receiver Chris Olave — with 37 seconds left. It was Fields’ second interception of the game after he had just one through 13 games.
Clemson will play top-ranked LSU, a 63-28 winner over No. 4 Oklahoma in the Peach Bowl in Atlanta on Saturday, in the title game Jan. 13 in New Orleans. The Tigers extended the nation’s longest active win streak to 29 games, while snapping the Buckeyes’ streak at 19 games.
“That’s what they’ve done for 29 games in a row,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said afterward on the ESPN broadcast. “... They didn’t do anything tonight that I didn’t already know. Unbelievable character.”
Lawrence finished 18 for 33 for 259 yards and two touchdowns and a two-point conversion to Tee Higgins for the final margin. Lawrence also ran for 107 yards on 16 carries, including a 67-yard touchdown.
“Without his legs, we don’t win this game,” Swinney said of his quarterback.
Etienne had three catches for 98 yards and two TDs, along with 10 carries for 36 yards and another score.
The Buckeyes took a 23-21 lead on a 23-yard pass by Fields to Olave on fourth-and-1 with 11:46 left in the fourth quarter to cap a 13-play, 84-yard drive that took 4:52.
Fields finished 30 for 46 for 320 yards, a TD and the two picks, while J.K. Dobbins ran for 174 yards and a score on 18 carries, battling an ankle injury after a hot start.
A screen pass from Lawrence to Etienne turned into a 53-yard touchdown and a 21-16 lead at 7:54 of the third quarter after the Tigers trailed by 16-0 late in the second. The early deficit could have been larger, but the Buckeyes kicked three field goals in the red zone.
The lone OSU touchdown of the first half was a 68-yard run by Dobbins.
“There’s a lot of pride in there, there’s a lot of tears, a lot of anger,” Buckeyes coach Ryan Day told the Big Ten Network afterward of the postgame locker room. “At the end of the day, we came up short, but a lot to learn from.”
A targeting call and ejection of OSU sophomore nickelback Shaun Wade was critical to the Clemson comeback. He had sacked Lawrence to force a likely Clemson punt, but the call — made upon review — gave the Tigers a first down. They scored twice in the final 2:45 of the half to make it 16-14, as Etienne ran in from the 8 before Lawrence galloped 67 yards with 1:10 left.
Another key moment came midway through the third quarter, when Ohio State’s Jeffrey Okudah stripped Clemson’s Justyn Ross after a short catch, and the Buckeyes’ Jordan Fuller scooped the ball and returned it for a touchdown to take a 22-21 lead. Upon review, however, the play was overturned to an incomplete pass.
“I don’t want to comment right now,” Day said of the latter play. “Because my understanding of what a completion is, when you take three or four steps after that, I don’t know. So I’m looking forward to getting an explanation.”
—Field Level Media