James Davis’s 1-yard run with eight seconds left in regulation sealed the Tigers’ 27-20 victory over No. 9 Florida State Saturday night in front of the 11th-largest crowd in Doak Campbell Stadium history.
It’s the first Clemson win in Tallahassee since 1989 and the third in the last four meetings. It’s also the first time in school history the Tigers have won two games in a row over Florida State.
“I’d like to see who can say (they’re 3-1),” senior center Dustin Fry said. “Maybe the Miami team in the early part of the decade. But since Bobby Bowden’s been there, I don’t think too many seniors can say they went 3-1 against the mighty FSU.”
Clemson is now back in the hunt for the Atlantic Division. The Tigers are only one game behind Boston College instead of two, which more or less would have ended all championship hopes.
Now, with the easy part of the schedule ahead for the next month, Clemson is in prime position to be a contender.
“We still have an opportunity to be a factor in the conference championship,” Tommy Bowden said. “I think we’re getting closer (to Florida State’s talent) as a team. We’re surely not at their level yet, but we’re closer.”
Earlier in the week, Bowden had said that the Tigers (2-1, 1-1 ACC) didn’t have to play a perfect game in order to win over Florida State (2-1, 1-1 ACC) like in years past. He couldn’t have been more right.
Plagued by disastrous special teams, it appeared Clemson would let a perfect opportunity to get its first win in Doak Campbell in 17 years.
The Seminoles scored nine points off of blocked kicks and had the game tied at 20-20 after trailing by as many as 11 points in the second half.
And with 5:54 left in the game, it seemed as though the game was about to be over.
Quarterback Will Proctor fumbled the snap from Fry and the ruling on the field was that Florida State defensive end Lawrence Timmons had recovered it at the Clemson 8.
But the call was overturned by replay as officials said it was “duel possession” between Timmons and Tigers receiver Jacoby Ford. And as Clemson fans discovered last week, a tie goes to the offense.
“I knew I had the ball,” Ford said. “I was really mad that they said he had it. When they blew the play dead, I had the ball, but he took it from me under the pile after the play was over.”
Florida State coach Bobby Bowden was confused by the sudden turn of events.
“Well, (the ref) said it was a mutual recovery, and that goes to the offense,” he said. “But our guy came out of the pile, so I thought it was ours. Everyone else thought it was ours, but I guess they got a rule that I ain’t read yet.”
Clemson had to punt on play later, but it prevented the Seminoles from getting an easy score, be it a field goal or otherwise.
“My stomach dropped on that play,” Fry said. “It was nice to see that the replay kind of worked in our favor this week. That was redemption, right there. I felt awful after that.”
The Seminoles took over at the Clemson 45 with 5:10 left to play. But the Tigers defense stood tall and forced Florida State to punt, which set up the game-winning drive.
The Tigers took over at their own 15 with 2:22 left to play.
On first down, Davis gained two yards on a run up the middle, and it appeared the Tigers were headed to overtime for the second straight week.
“I didn’t want to leave hardly any time on the clock,” Bowden said.
But on second down, Davis broke on up the middle to the 31, which put the Tigers in a hurry up mode. They were going for the win in regulation.
“They had spread the field to defend the passing game and we had the opportunity to get an outstanding run in that situation,” offensive coordinator Rob Spence said. “That run could have been one of the biggest runs of the game to get the first down so we could gain some momentum and some tempo to our offense.”
Once at the 31, Proctor hit receiver Aaron Kelly on an 18-yard pass to the 49, which set up another massive run by Davis.
After the catch, the offense used a quick snap because coaches had earlier noticed the Seminoles were taking a long time to get in the defensive calls. This time, it worked as Proctor went to a quick count and caught the Florida State defense off guard.
A handoff to Davis to the right side broke free and he streaked 47 yards to the 4 to set up his eventual one-yard run for the game winner.
“No one was there,” Davis said. “It was just wide open. They were still trying to get their calls on and we just went on with it.”
The touchdown erased what was nearly a very troublesome loss. Had the Tigers lost, Bowden would have been blistered for some of the decisions he made. And while he faced those same questions, he won’t be criticized as heavily because they won.
The Tigers built an 11-point lead on their first drive of third quarter after Proctor scrambled 20 yards for a touchdown with 12:14 left.
Earlier in the drive, Proctor hit tailback Davis on a 54-yard pass to set up the scoring play.
However, for some reason, Tommy Bowden opted to go for a two-point conversion even though it made no mathematical sense to do so with a 20-9 advantage.
Clemson failed to covert, which allowed the Seminoles to stay within two scores – a touchdown, two-conversion and a field goal. And that’s exactly what happened.
The Seminoles kicked a field goal with 3:19 left remaining the quarter to make it 20-12.
After a three-and-out by the Tigers, Florida State marched 53 yards and scored with 10:27 left in the game.
For the first time since 1989, the Tigers held a halftime lead at Florida State.
However, it was one of the more unlikely and odd first halves in Tigers history, which included two blocked kicks returned for scores.
Clemson went into intermission with the 14-9 advantage after Proctor connected with Chansi Stuckey for a 19-yard touchdown with :23 remaining in the second quarter.
Due to the kicking woes, Bowden opted to go for the two-point conversion, which was a successful pass to Stuckey.
The Seminoles’ offense was shut out in the first half even though the team had nine points at the half.
Florida State’s only touchdown came via a blocked field goal with 3:24 left in the second quarter.
The other two points came on a return of a blocked extra point following a Davis six-yard touchdown run with 3:42 remaining in the first quarter.