Late TD gives Clemson 29-23 win over Ohio State and sends Tigers to national title game against LSU

Clemson’s winning streak continues. And it’ll be the Tigers vs. the Tigers for the national title.

Clemson RB Travis Etienne scored a go-ahead TD with 1:49 left to give the Tigers a 29-23 win over No. 2 Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl on Saturday night. The victory advances No. 3 Clemson to the College Football Playoff National Championship Game against No. 1 LSU on Jan. 13.

Clemson has won 29 consecutive games dating back to a Sugar Bowl loss against Alabama on Jan. 1, 2018. It’s the longest active win streak in the country.

The Tigers got the ball back from Ohio State with 2:55 to go and the Buckeyes leading 23-21. After taking over at its own 6, Clemson needed just four plays to find the end zone in its second TD drive of the evening that stretched over 90 yards.

Etienne, a stalwart of Clemson’s playoff dynasty, entered Saturday night’s game averaging over eight yards a carry. Ohio State held him to just 36 rushing yards on 10 carries. But made a huge impact in the passing game with three catches for 98 yards including a 53-yard catch and run for a TD earlier in the game.

“We’ve been saving that little play-action to Travis the whole game,” Clemson coach Swinney said after the game of Etienne’s go-ahead TD. “Just felt like it was the right time to call it right there.”

With Clemson scoring so quickly, Ohio State had plenty of time to score after Etienne’s TD. And the Buckeyes got all the way to the Clemson 23. But Justin Fields threw an interception to Nolan Turner in the end zone as he looked for a go-ahead TD pass to Chris Olave.

The pass was Fields’ second interception of the game and his third of the season.

Nolan Turner's interception to seal the game for Clemson. (via ESPN)
Nolan Turner's interception to seal the game for Clemson. (via ESPN)

The throw showed off the same aggressiveness that had put Ohio State back in front in the fourth quarter. After Ohio State had settled for field goals of 21 and 22 yards in the first half, coach Ryan Day decided to go for it on fourth-and-2 at the Clemson 23 with less than 12 minutes to go.

And instead of running the ball up the middle, Fields threw a deep pass over the middle to Olave, who found himself in single coverage in the end zone for the go-ahead score.

Ohio State inexplicably chose not to go for two and a potential three-point lead after Olave’s TD, so Clemson spent the rest of the game in a position to kick a go-ahead field goal. But Etienne’s third TD of the game ended up making that a moot point.

The title-game appearance is Clemson’s fourth in the past five seasons. The only national title game in the playoff era that hasn’t involved Clemson or a team from the ACC came after the 2014 season when Ohio State beat Oregon for the first playoff title.

Clemson was shut out until Shaun Wade’s targeting penalty

Things were not going Clemson’s way in the first 25 minutes of the game. The Buckeyes were pitching a 16-0 shutout and Lawrence struggled to get going throwing the football.

But Ohio State DB Shaun Wade’s targeting penalty flipped a switch. With less than five minutes to go in the second quarter, Wade made helmet-to-helmet contact with Lawrence as the QB got swarmed and tackled awkwardly for a sack on third down.

Shaun Wade got tossed for this hit. (via ESPN)
Shaun Wade got tossed for this hit. (via ESPN)

While the penalty wasn’t called on the field, replay made it clear that Wade lowered his helmet to make contact with Lawrence’s helmet, a clear violation of the targeting rule. And not only did Wade get ejected for the hit, Clemson got 15 yards and a first down instead of being forced to punt.

Five plays after Wade’s penalty, Etienne scored his first touchdown of the evening.

Ohio State then went three-and-out on its subsequent drive and Lawrence capped off a 45-second Clemson drive with a 67-yard touchdown run that cut Ohio State’s lead to 16-14 just before halftime.

Replay review overturns Ohio State fumble return TD

Ohio State fans were upset with the call on Wade. And that helped lead to frustration with a roughing the punter call in the third quarter that gave Clemson a gift of a first down on the Tigers’ third touchdown of the evening.

But those two penalties were clearly the correct calls. The same can’t be said for Jordan Fuller’s fumble return TD that got overturned on replay.

Fuller returned a fumble for an apparent 22-21 Ohio State lead with less than five minutes to go in the third quarter after Jeffrey Okudah had stripped the ball from Justyn Ross’ hands after Ross made a third down catch.

While officials on the field ruled that Ross had fumbled the ball, a replay review determined that Ross didn’t have possession long enough for a completion. The call on the field was reversed to an incompletion and Clemson harmlessly punted the ball away to Ohio State while still maintaining a five-point lead.

J.K. Dobbins rushes for 174 yards

Buckeyes RB J.K. Dobbins ran all over the Tigers in the first half and finished with 18 carries for 174 yards and a touchdown. But he also dropped two passes that could have been touchdowns in the first half and suffered a left ankle injury that limited his availability in the second half.

While Dobbins tried to play through the pain in the final 30 minutes, it was clear that he wasn’t 100 percent.

Dobbins’ 174 yards did put him over 2,000 yards for the season, however. The junior finishes 2019 with 2,003 yards and 21 scores in 14 games.

Fields was 30-of-46 passing for 320 yards and a touchdown and the two interceptions. He entered the game with 40 touchdown passes and just one interception, a TD to interception ratio that was far and away the best in college football.

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.

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