Just call the Georgia Dome (Clemson’s) Death Valley South. The Tigers did lose one game in Death Valley this season, but they were undefeated in the Georgia Dome in 2012, and both wins came against the SEC. The 13th ranked Tigers opened their season with a seven point win over Auburn and closed it Monday night with a 25-24 win over 7th ranked LSU in the 45th annual Chick-Fil-A Bowl.
Chandler Cantanzaro, who had missed only one kick all season. drilled a 37 yard field goal on the final play of the game to win it for the Tigers. It was the only time all night Clemson held the lead, and it goes down in history as only the fourth walk-off field goal for Clemson.
Clemson began the winning drive from its own 20 with 1:39 to play. The Tigers had forced a quick three and out by LSU, all three plays being pass plays, and they had all three of their timeouts left. The critical moment came with 1:22 left and the Tigers facing fourth and 16 from their 14. Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd, the offensive player of the game, found DeAndre Hopkins for 26 yards. He followed that up with a seven yard pass to Hopkins, and after a pass interference call on LSU star safety Eric Reid trying to defend Hopkins, the Tigers were at the LSU 42.
The drive eventually reached the 17, and after Boyd took a three yard loss to position the ball, Cantanzaro split the uprights and the Tiger fans among the 68,027 in attendance roared with delight.
“It was unbelievable,” Cantanzaro said. “I have kicked a game winner before. I just went out there and kicked it. That whole turn of events, that was God’s plans. I knew I had God on my side. I prayed a little bit and then I just went out there and kicked it.
The game couldn’t have started worse for Clemson. On the second play from scrimmage, Sammy Watkins took a hand off, was hit hard for a one yard loss, and lost a fumble. And he was lost for the rest of the game with an ankle injury.
LSU moved quickly after recovering the ball at the Clemson 23. On the second play, Jeremy Hill broke free for a 17 yard touchdown and a 7-0 LSU lead.
But Clemson bounced right back with a 75 yard, 11 play drive. Tajh Boyd hit Nuk Hopkins for two passes totaling 29 yards and later ran in from the 11 for a touchdown to tie the game at 7-7.
LSU retook the lead early in the second quarter on a 6 yard pass from Zach Mettenberger to Jarvis Landry, but Clemson answered later in the quarter on an 11 yard pass from Boyd to Hopkins. But, the extra point was blocked preserving LSU’s 14-13 lead. That blocked kick also snapped Chandler Cantanzaro’s streak of 56 straight made extra points.
Hopkins also set an ACC record on his touchdown catch with his 10th touchdown reception of the season breaking the record held by Virginia’s Herman Moore.
LSU turned up the defensive heat in the third quarter holding Clemson to only 28 yards. And the LSU special teams and offense burned Clemson early in the half. Michael Ford returned the second half kickoff 43 yards to his own 43, and on the first play from scrimmage Hill took it to the house for a 57 yard touchdown run.
The teams exchanged punts thru the middle part of the quarter before LSU put a drive together that reached the Clemson three. Garry Peters broke up a third down pass to Landry in the end zone and LSU’s Drew Alleman booted a 20 yard field goal for a 24-13 lead.
Clemson’s offense came to life in the early moments of the fourth quarter. A 21 yard pass to Hopkins got the Tigers to the LSU 43, and a pass interference call on LSU on another pass to Hopkins gave Clemson a first and goal at the ten. But Clemson could not knock it into the end zone and Cantanzaro booted a 26 yard field goal to make it a one possession game at 24-16.
From that point, Clemson staged one of the great comebacks in school history and won an 11th game for the fourth time. It’s also the first time Clemson has trailed going into the fourth quarter and rallied to win a bowl game since the 1959 Bluebonnet Bowl. And the Tigers break a two game bowl losing streak to boot.
“This is a landmark win,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “11th win for the first time in 31 years and only the fourth time ever. The 2012 team now hitches their saddle up with those three elite teams in our program’s history. Not only did they win 11, they did it in fine fashion. This was a football team that got better all year long. Tonight we kind of grew up from some of the challenges we had early in the year. I’m just so proud of them.”
Clemson totally dominated the stat sheet out gaining LSU 445-219. The Tigers ran 100 plays to 48 for LSU and had the football for 13 more minutes. Clemson converted 8 of 18 third downs.
Boyd was 36-50 for 346 yards and 2 touchdowns. Hopkins, who elected not to talk to the media after the game, caught 13 passes for 191 yards and two scores. Brandon Ford had 9 receptions and Adam Humphries 8.
The Tiger defense, though it gave up 124 rushing yards to Hill, limited LSU to its second lowest output of the season (low mark was 200 yards vs Florida). The Tigers racked up a season high six sacks. Senior defensive end Malliciah Goodman, in perhaps his finest game at Clemson, led the charge with two sacks and three tackles for loss.
The most outstanding defensive player of the game was LSU linebacker Kevin Minter who was credited with 19 tackles, a sack and two tackles for loss.
Clemson finishes the season at 11-2 and hopeful of a top ten final ranking. The Tigers open next season at home against Georgia giving them yet another chance to go toe to toe with one of the SEC’s best.
Against LSU, on this New Year’s Eve night, the toe of Cantanzaro was just enough to make the difference.