MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Clemson’s players lobbed oranges at their delirious fans, while coach Dabo Swinney lobbed a not-so-subtle jab at the Tigers’ in-state rival.
And in the middle of the celebration, Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins beamed after giving the Tigers a night to savor — one 32 years in the making.
Boyd threw for 378 yards and five touchdowns, Watkins had a record-setting night with 16 catches for 227 yards on what likely was his collegiate finale and No. 12 Clemson rallied to beat No. 7 Ohio State 40-35 on Friday in the Orange Bowl, a game the Tigers lost by 37 points just two years ago.
“We are Orange Bowl champs again,” 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.”
Nope, beating the Buckeyes wasn’t enough.
Clemson had to make sure the rival Gamecocks took notice as well.
“That was a lot of fun, man,” Swinney said. “That was a lot of fun.”
It surely didn’t feel that fun after Boyd was intercepted with 1:27 left near midfield, with Ohio State needing a touchdown to take the lead.
But Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller — who was shaken up in the fourth quarter, saying afterward he had a cracked rib and a shoulder issue — was picked off two plays later, and the Tigers ran out the clock.
Boyd’s 5-yard pass to Stanton Seckinger with 6:16 remaining put the Tigers (11-2) ahead to stay, despite allowing 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’s a very special night,” Boyd said. “Just the significance of this game, not for me particularly, not for this team particularly, but for this university ... I couldn’t pick a better way to go out as a senior.”
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.
“It’s going to sting for a while, probably a long while because we didn’t finish,” Meyer said. “It was right there.”
Ohio State wound up allowing 115 points in the season’s final three games. The Buckeyes gave up exactly that many in the season’s first six games.
“We’re not a championship-caliber defense right now,” Meyer said.
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.
Boyd finished with 505 all-purpose yards, outgaining Ohio State by 78 yards himself.
“What a legacy,” Swinney said. “He put an exclamation point on it tonight.”
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.
This time, the game didn’t get away.
Boyd’s 3-yard touchdown pass to Bryant had Ohio State facing a 20-9 deficit, but two scores in a 3½-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.
But the game changed again, and in the end, Boyd and the Tigers were standing tall.
“It just means we’re one step closer to our ultimate goal,” Swinney said, “and that’s to be the best in the country.”
No. 12 Clemson 40, No. 7 Ohio State 35
Clemson 14 6 14 6 — 40
Ohio State 9 13 7 6 — 35
Clem—Boyd 48 run (Catanzaro kick), 12:50.
OSU—B. Miller 33 run (Basil kick), 5:44.
Clem—S.Watkins 34 pass from Boyd (Catanzaro kick), 4:56.
Clem—Bryant 3 pass from Boyd (kick failed), 6:16.
OSU—Heuerman 57 pass from B. Miller (kick failed), 3:39.
OSU—B. Miller 3 run (Basil kick), :12.
OSU—Hyde 1 run (Basil kick), 5:50.
Clem—S. Watkins 30 pass from Boyd (Catanzaro kick), 2:47.
Clem—Bryant 3 pass from Boyd (Catanzaro kick), :32.
OSU—Hyde 14 pass from B. Miller (pass failed), 11:35.
Clem—Seckinger 5 pass from Boyd (pass failed), 6:16.
First downs 24 27
Rushes-yards 36-198 48-193
Passing 378 234
Comp-Att-Int 31-40-2 16-24-2
Return Yards 0 10
Punts-Avg. 3-37.7 5-48.2
Fumbles-Lost 1-0 2-2
Penalties-Yards 15-144 6-60
Time of Possession 27:09 32:51
RUSHING—Clemson, Boyd 20-127, McDowell 12-69, Davidson 1-3, S.Watkins 1-3, Team 2-(minus 4). Ohio State, Hyde 25-113, B.Miller 18-35, Wilson 3-24, Corey (Philly).Brown 1-15, Heuerman 1-6.
PASSING—Clemson, Boyd 31-40-2-378. Ohio State, B.Miller 16-24-2-234.
RECEIVING—Clemson, S.Watkins 16-227, McDowell 4-32, Bryant 3-28, Davidson 3-27, Seckinger 2-14, Hopper 2-7, Leggett 1-43. Ohio State, Corey (Philly).Brown 8-116, Hyde 2-39, Vannett 2-22, D.Smith 2-5, Heuerman 1-57, Wilson 1-(minus 5).