MIAMI GARDENS, FLA. For the second time in three years, Clemson fell apart at the Orange Bowl. Only this time, the Tigers found a way to recover.
And thanks to Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins and plenty of others, the end result was Clemson’s biggest win in a generation.
Boyd threw for 378 yards and five touchdowns, Watkins had a record-setting night with 16 catches for 227 yards, and No. 12 Clemson rallied to beat No. 7 Ohio State 40-35 on Friday for the school’s first Orange Bowl win in 32 years.
“We are Orange Bowl champs again,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “Hey, listen: Two years ago we got our butts kicked on this field. And it has been a journey to get back. We’re 22-4 since that night. And we are the first team from the state of South Carolina to ever win a BCS game.”
Boyd’s 5-yard pass to Stanton Seckinger with 6:16 remaining put the Tigers (11-2) ahead to stay on a night when they allowed 20 unanswered points in wasting an early 11-point lead. Watkins caught two scoring passes, plus became Clemson’s career receptions leader and set an Orange Bowl record for yardage.
Martavis Bryant caught two more TD passes for the Tigers, who posted consecutive 11-win seasons for the first time in school history.
“It takes teams to win,” Swinney said. “And listen, we made enough mistakes to probably lose the game tonight. But we kept picking each other up. Our defense was awesome.”
Braxton Miller threw for 234 yards and Carlos Hyde ran for 113 more for Ohio State (12-2), which led 29-20 in the second half but wound up losing its second straight game — after having won each of its previous 24 under coach Urban Meyer, whose record in Bowl Championship Series games fell to 4-1. Corey Brown had 116 yards receiving for the Buckeyes.
Miller was intercepted twice in the final 3:12, dooming the Buckeyes. Boyd threw an interception to give Ohio State the ball back, but Miller was picked again — Stephone Anthony made the play for the Tigers — and Clemson ran out the clock.
“It’s going to sting for a while, probably a long while because we didn’t finish,” Meyer said. “It was right there.”
The Buckeyes had a 29-20 lead in the third after Hyde picked up 31 yards on 4th-and-inches, then went airborne to break the plane of the goal line on the next play.
“I felt like the offense was starting to get clicking at that point,” Hyde said. “I thought we could make it happen.”
Then the mistakes started coming in bunches for Ohio State. A fumbled punt return and an interception led to touchdown grabs by Watkins and Bryant, putting the Tigers up entering the fourth.
Hyde caught a 14-yard scoring pass from Miller with 11:35 left, giving the Buckeyes a one-point lead, but Clemson and Boyd went on one last scoring march to give the Tigers the BCS win they’ve been seeking for years.
When Clemson played in the Orange Bowl two years ago, the Tigers gave up 21 points in the final 2:29 of the first half, letting a close game get blown wide open on the way to a 70-33 loss to West Virginia.
End-of-half mistakes cost Clemson again.
Boyd’s 3-yard touchdown pass to Bryant had Ohio State facing a 20-9 deficit, but two scores in a 3 1/2-minute span gave the Buckeyes a 22-20 halftime lead. Clemson left Jeff Heuerman wide open down the middle for a 57-yard touchdown pass from Miller, making it a one-score game. And on a drive aided by a 15-yard penalty against Clemson’s Darius Robinson, Miller ran in from 3 yards with 12 seconds left to give the Buckeyes their first lead.
And Ohio State had to feel fortunate.
Boyd went 48 yards untouched — his longest career run — for a touchdown that opened the scoring. The Buckeyes tied it on the ensuing drive, catching a break when a third-down sack by Vic Beasley that would have forced a punt was rendered moot by his unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Heuerman pulled off a fake punt later in the drive, and Miller eventually rumbled 33 yards to tie the game.
Boyd found Watkins for a 34-yard score to put Clemson back on top. Ohio State answered with a safety, sacking Boyd one play after Armani Reeves brilliantly downed a punt at the 1, putting the ball on the turf with his left hand as his right hand was touching the orange paint in the Clemson end zone.
In the end, Boyd was standing tallest.
“What a legacy,” Swinney said. “He put an exclamation point on it tonight.”