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2012 Orange Bowl Recap

Clemson Tigers vs West Virginia Mountaineers - West Virginia 70, Clemson 33

There are only a few plays or sequences in the sport of football that can pack a maximum emotional wallop in the first half or at any other point in time before the fourth quarter. The Clemson Tigers suffered one such series of events in the 2012 Orange Bowl, and they were never able to recover. The story of a rout by the West Virginia Mountaineers is the story of one play that changed a game by 180 degrees in the blink of an eye.

Clemson and West Virginia had been trading haymakers in yet another BCS bowl shootout. After Oregon and Wisconsin lit up the Rose Bowl and Stanford and Oklahoma State brought fireworks to the Fiesta Bowl, the Big East and ACC champions were frying scoreboard circuits in Miami. The two teams combined for 31 first-quarter points and were marching up and down the field in the second stanza as well. When Clemson gained a first and goal at the West Virginia 3, it seemed that it was only a matter of time until the Tigers retook a 24-21 lead in a football version of ping-pong. The crowd at Sun Life Stadium was settling in for a long, fun night and a very close game between evenly-matched squads.

Then, this game was turned on its axis by the kind of moment that can and will – and did – crush a team’s psyche.

Clemson running back Andre Ellington powered his way into the middle of the line for a two-yard gain, reaching the West Virginia 1. However, before his knees hit the ground in a pile of bodies, Ellington – who wrapped up the ball with two hands – nevertheless relaxed the intensity of his grip on the ball. West Virginia defensive back Darwin cook was able to reach into the tangle of human flesh, strip the ball from Ellington, and race downfield for a 99-yard touchdown. In one series of movements – strip, steal, sprint, score – West Virginia created a 14-point swing from being down three points to leading by 11. Clemson did reduce the lead to eight with a field goal, but when West Virginia motored downfield to score a touchdown with just over 2:30 left in the first half, the Tigers – trailing 35-20 – knew that they stood on the ledge, and that if they made just one or two more mistakes, their competitive grip on the Orange Bowl would evaporate.

Sure enough, that’s exactly what happened. Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd threw an interception deep in his own team’s territory, and the Mountaineers scored with 1:13 left in the half to post a 42-20 lead. Then Boyd fumbled inside his own 30, and West Virginia punched in yet another touchdown to take a 49-20 lead with four seconds left in the first half.

Yes, that one 99-yard strip-and-score by Darwin Cook changed the emotion complexion of this tilt. It inserted a profound amount of panic into the Tigers, leading to a complete collapse when West Virginia continued to press the accelerator behind quarterback Geno Smith, who hit 31 of 42 passes on Wednesday night for 401 yards and six – yes, SIX – touchdowns without an interception. This is how West Virginia set the all-time bowl game record – in ANY bowl, mind you – for first-half points with 49. This is how West Virginia broke Baylor’s 67-point bowl scoring record (just six days later!) by hanging 70 on Clemson.

This is how a game got away, and left an indelible mark on two teams’ college football postseason experiences.

By: Matt Zemek
DFN Sports Senior Staff Writer

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