After the blowout that took place earlier when LSU dismantled Oklahoma, 63-28, football fans were hoping for a better game in the 2019 Fiesta Bowl. The fans would get just that as these two teams showed why they belonged on this stage.
For Ohio St, the question was could they hang with Clemson. Remember that this was a team that faced five top 15 teams this year. They started that slate with a 38-7 blowout of #8 Wisconsin and followed that up three weeks later with a win over #10 Penn St, 28-17. The next week the went into the Big House and destroyed Michigan 56-27 and to quell any doubts, they went to Wisconsin and handed it to the Badgers again by the tune of 34-21.
The rub on Clemson was simple. They had faced no competition all year. Oh yeah, they were the defending national champions, but what would they do when faced with the toughest test of the year? A team that came into this game with little respect wanted to show the football world why they were the defending champs and winners of their last 28 games.
So, off went the game and the Buckeyes to start the game. They took the opening kickoff, drove 71 yards in 10 plays and capped the drive off with 21-yard Blake Haubeil field goal to make it 3-0. On the drive, Ohio St QB, Justin Fields would set the tone going 6-7 for 64 yards. More important was the way the Buckeyes looked on the drive. On their second possession, after a Clemson missed field goal, they would take over at their own 32. Fields would hand off to J.K. Dobbins and a hole formed on the left side of the line. He would take that hole and fly 68 yards to paydirt for a 10-0 Buckeyes lead.
The teams would trade punts between the first and second quarters but by the 7:20 mark of the second, it was 16-0 Buckeyes. It was at this point that I was sure that this game was not going to turn out as Clemson had planned. Fields and Dobbins were moving the football and Ohio St. looked like a team on a mission.
One of the most common themes you have heard from Clemson head coach Dabo Sweeney is, as he said after the game, “We finish.” “That’s not just who we are. That’s what we do.” So with the ball and 7:20 left in the half, the Tigers went to work. Their QB, Trevor Lawrence came into this game as one of the premier quarterbacks in the nation and undefeated in his career so far. Throughout his young career, he had already shown that no deficit was too big for him and his team to overcome.
A 10-play, 75-yard drive took 4:35 off the clock and was finished off with a Travis Etienne eight-yard scamper to make it 16-7 Ohio St. A three and out by the Buckeyes gave the ball back to Clemson with 1:50 left in the half. On third and ten, Lawrence hit Justyn Ross for 16 yards and a big first down to keep the drive alive at their 33. After an incomplete pass to Diondre Overton, Clemson called Lawrence’s number with a QB draw. He stepped back and surveyed the field for about half a second and took off up the middle of the field. He came upon two defenders and side-stepped them both and the race to the endzone was on. The foot race would end with Lawrence stepping into the endzone for a 67-yard touchdown that changed the momentum of the game for a moment.
So just like that, a game that looked to be a possible Buckeyes blowout was now a football game. Both teams went into the locker rooms with Ohio St up 16-14. So at this point, the question would be who would finish this game off and head to the National Championship to play the LSU Tigers?
The teams would open the second half with each having to punt the ball. On the Buckeyes punt, punter Drue Chrisman nailed a beauty and the ball was downed at the Clemson one. Momentum is so big in sports. It can carry a team to heights that change games over the course of a season. Moments that will be remembered till the end of time. In a football game, momentum can swing back and forth as it had in this particular game. It would swing again as the Tigers took the ball at their own one-yard line and march 99 yards in seven plays. They would cap off the drive when Lawrence dropped back to pass, looked right and then dumped the ball off to Etienne. He would do the rest juking a defender and beating all Ohio St defenders to the endzone for 21-16 Clemson lead. So there it was, a 16-0 Buckeyes lead evaporated and the Clemson Tigers did what they have done for two years of undefeated football under Lawrence. They came back from a deficit and took the lead and seemingly, control of the game.
But Ohio St did not come here to fold their tents and go home without a fight. With 1:26 left in the third quarter, they took the ball and had one thing in mind: get seven points and take that precious momentum back. They would move the ball 84 yards on 13 plays and took the lead on a Fields to Chris Olave 23-yard touchdown pass. It was 23-21 Ohio St and we were now in what they call in boxing, the championship rounds.
Again, the teams traded punts and Clemson would get the ball at their own six-yard line. Could it be possible that the Tigers would get two touchdown drives of 90 yards or more in the same game? The answer was a simple yes they could. They would get key plays from Lawrence as he ran for 11 yards, completed passes to Ross, and Amari Rodgers and then finished it off with another scoring pass to Etienne for 34 yards to make it 29-23 with 1:49 left.
One more chance for the Buckeyes. One more chance to get the final momentum and cap off one of the best seasons of their lives. One more chance to show the football world they not only deserved to be in this game but that they had the right to play for the national title.
That dream would end when Fields was picked off by Nolan Turner in the endzone for a touchback with 37 seconds left in the game. Clemson would run out the clock and they were, once again, headed to the national championship for the right to defend their title.
Final score: Clemson 29 Ohio St 23