Clemson rallies past Ohio State in thrilling Orange Bowl

By Manny Navarro

MIAMI — They sold this year’s Discover Orange Bowl as an offensive showcase featuring two of the best quarterbacks in college football.

Goods delivered — and then some.

Clemson’s Tajh Boyd threw for 378 yards, five touchdowns and ran for 127 yards and another score. Ohio State’s Braxton Miller accounted for 269 total yards and four scores. And Tigers receiver Sammy Watkins set an Orange Bowl record with 227 yards and a BCS-bowl record with 16 catches.

But in the end, it was Clemson linebacker and leading tackler Stephone Anthony who got the last word, picking off Miller with 1:18 to play and sealing the Tigers’ 40-35 victory in front of 72,080 at Sun Life Stadium.

“I want to say thank you to our fans. It’s been 32 years since we won the Orange Bowl,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “Two years ago, we got our butts kicked on this field (70-33 to West Virginia).

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    “In the locker room that night it was a down night. I told the team it’s been 30 years since we’ve been to the Orange Bowl and it won’t be 30 years before we get back. Nobody two years ago on that night would have said we’d be 22-4 since then.”

    Despite Boyd’s huge night, Watkins took home MVP honors for Clemson. The Fort Myers native considered the top draft-eligible receiver in the country put on a show against a beat-up Buckeyes secondary in what turned out to be one of the best Orange Bowls in recent memories. There were five lead changes — three in the fourth quarter — and six turnovers between the teams.

    “We made enough mistakes to probably lose the game tonight,” said Swinney, whose team turned it over twice including a Boyd interception with 1:27 to play at the Clemson 48-yard line. “But Tajh Boyd is the winningest quarterback in the history of this school. He put a legacy on it tonight and Sammy Watkins was Sammy Watkins.”

    Watkins gave all the credit to his quarterback.

    “We’ve been together for three years,” Watkins said. “We definitely have chemistry on that offense. He did a great job delivering the ball.”

    The victory notched back-to-back 11-win seasons for Clemson (11-2) for the first time in school history and scored a big win for the Atlantic Coast Conference, which improved to 4-12 all-time in BCS bowl games.

    Florida State (13-0) will have a chance to improve that record when it takes on Auburn (12-1) for the national championship Monday in Pasadena, Calif.

    Ohio State, making its record ninth BCS bowl appearance and first since 2010, dropped its second game in a row and fell to 12-2 after beginning the Urban Meyer era 24-0.

    It was a bitter end to the season for the Buckeyes. A month ago they were in position to play Florida State before they lost to Rose Bowl winner Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game.

    “It’s going to sting for a while, probably a long while, because we just didn’t finish, and it was right there to finish,” Meyer said of the season. “If you’d have told me when I walked out of that team meeting [two years ago] that this group would buy in and we’d go on a nice run and have the highest scoring offense in program history, 24 straight wins and all that, I’d have looked at you and said you’re out of your mind.”

    Miller, who injured his throwing shoulder on the first of five Clemson sacks, turned it over three times and all of them were costly. But it was Corey Brown’s fumble on a punt return which hurt most.

    Leading 29-20, Ohio State had all the momentum before Brown muffed the punt and Clemson’s Robert Smith pounced on it at the Buckeyes 33 with 3:35 left in the third quarter.

    Watkins cashed it in for Clemson three plays and 49 seconds later when he leaped over a defender in the end zone to haul in a 30-yard touchdown catch, his second of the night. The score trimmed Ohio State’s lead to 29-27.

    Moments later, Miller made his first mistake of the night when his third down pass was picked off by freshman safety Jayron Kearse as he was falling out of bounds at the Buckeyes’ 38.

    Three plays later, receiver Martavis Bryant fought off a pass interference penalty and made a spectacular three-yard touchdown catch on a deflected ball in the corner of the end zone to put Clemson back in front 34-29 with 32 seconds left in the third quarter.

    The Buckeyes responded and took a 35-34 lead when Miller connected with running back Carlos Hyde on a 14-yard touchdown pass with 11:35 to play.

    But Boyd answered. He led the Tigers on a 13-play 75-yard scoring drive and cashed in with a five-yard touchdown pass to tight end Stanton Steckinger with 6:16 remaining.

    “The true spirit of a champion comes when he is down,” Boyd said. “And this team, all we do is compete; we keep working and find a way to get it done.”

    Boyd finished 31 of 40 passing for 378 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions. It was his 18th career 300-yard game, tying him with Phillip Rivers for the ACC record.

    At kickoff, it was 62 degrees inside Sun Life Stadium, much warmer than in Clemson, S.C. (32 degrees) and Columbus, Ohio (10 degrees).

    The Tigers looked right at home, marching 75 yards and six plays and taking a quick 7-0 lead on Boyd’s career-long 48-yard touchdown run.

    Clemson led 20-9 midway through the second quarter before Miller engineered two scoring drives and the Buckeyes took a 22-20 lead into the half.