MIAMI GARDENS, FLA. - Football is and always has been the greatest team game in sports. But there are select precious times when the stars shine brightest.
Quarterback Tajh Boyd. Wide receiver Sammy Watkins. Their names, their likenesses, their accomplishments will live on in Clemson lore for years upon years to come.
Boyd and Watkins gave their fans one final thrill - maybe the greatest thrill they've had since the last time Clemson won the Orange Bowl 32 years ago, and that earned a national championship - in the No. 12-ranked Tigers' 40-35 comeback conquest of No. 7 Ohio State Friday at Sun Life Stadium.
For Boyd, it's official; for Watkins, it's academic. They put a stamp on their Clemson careers with perfection: individual records meshed with team glory.
"I couldn't pick a better way to go out as a senior," Boyd said. "And these guys right here, these are the guys I play for. What a special way to go out."
Boyd quarterbacked his team to a 32nd victory, reaching his goal of matching Rodney Williams as the school's all-time greatest winners. He did so with 505 total yards of offense (31-for-40, 378 yards; 20 rush, 127 yards) and six total touchdowns.
Watkins? Well, the nation discovered stats don't do him justice: he's one of those "you've got to see him to believe him" wunderkinds.
Put it this way: it takes a lot to render offensive coordinator Chad Morris speechless.
Sixteen catches for 227 yards and two touchdowns are a lot.
"Sammy is..." Morris said, pausing to grasp for the right words, "golly, what a great performance tonight."
As a junior, Watkins politely declined all inquiries on whether this was his final game in college. But it's clear Watkins will soon announce he's off to the NFL Draft, where he figures to be a top-ten selection based on nights like Friday.
Watkins broke the Orange Bowl receiving yardage record, the Clemson single-game receptions record, and became the school's leader in catches and touchdown passes.
"I went out with a bang, but our offense played great putting me in a great situation," Watkins said. "Coach Morris is one of the great play-callers I know. I would say he definitely used me tonight. Everything I had in me, he got out of me."
In the second-to-last BCS bowl game ever, No. 12 Clemson picked up its first BCS triumph, and as he took the podium for ESPN's postgame show, head coach Dabo Swinney couldn't resist illustrating a related point.
"Listen, two years ago, we got our butts kicked on this field, and it has been a journey to get back," Swinney yelled, referring to the 2012 Orange Bowl defeat. "We're 22-4 since that night, and we are the first team from the state of South Carolina to ever win a BCS game!"
It was return fire for South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier's "That state championship ain't bad either" comment Wednesday after beating Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl.
South Carolina, indeed, has beaten Clemson five straight. But in the last three instances, Clemson responded by beating Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship, LSU in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl and now the Buckeyes in the Orange Bowl.
As such, Clemson (11-2) is the only team in the nation to defeat top 10 teams in consecutive bowl games the past two seasons.
The Buckeyes (12-2) hung in there just enough to have a chance at the end, but they turned it over on four of their final five possessions. Linebackers Spencer Shuey and Stephone Anthony each picked off Braxton Miller in the final 3:12 to seal the Tigers' triumph.
"Two great offenses tonight," defensive tackle Grady Jarrett said, "and we made plays when we needed it to win the game."
What fun it was for the announced crowd of 72,080 to watch what has become the new age of college football: a mockery of defense. Both Rose Bowl teams got to 20 points, both Sugar Bowl teams reached 30, both Fiesta Bowl teams went over 40 points, and the Orange Bowl nearly ran out of fireworks exploding in the sky after every touchdown.
In the end, it was tight end Stanton Seckinger (Porter-Gaud) bookending the Tigers' 2013 season with game-winning touchdown catches. He did the deed Aug. 31 vs. Georgia, and against OSU when the whole field rolled right, he went left and grabbed an uncovered 5-yarder from Boyd with 6:16 to go, the game's final points.
Boyd threw for five touchdowns, the seventh time he did that, and also scampered for a 49-yard score, besting his previous long run by 22 yards.
There were four lead changes. Clemson led 20-9 in the second quarter, but Ohio State scored 20 consecutive points to grab a nine-point advantage with 5:50 remaining in the third quarter.
"Our whole goal was to get this thing to the fourth quarter," Swinney said. "We knew Ohio State was going to make a run, they were going to fight with everything they've got. We felt like if we got it to the fourth quarter, we'd win it."
Then the Sammy Watkins Show commenced. Following Ohio State's dropped punt, an unforgivable gaffe to swing momentum, Boyd rolled to his right, flicked his wrist, and Ohio State's Doran Grant could do nothing but enjoy the best view in the house of Watkins' leaping touchdown grab, his second of the night and 12th of the season.
Junior receiver Martavis Bryant, rumored to be playing his final game in a Clemson uniform, nestled two touchdowns on short fade passes, both giving or extending Clemson's lead.
Turnovers, a major bugaboo in Clemson losses, favored the Tigers. They scored 14 points off turnovers and yielded none.
The refs were a regular interruption, calling 21 combined penalties for 204 yards (Clemson: 15 for 144) with several other flags declined or picked up.
Clemson was 7 for 13 on third down; Ohio State went 2 for 13.
Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde carried 25 times for 113 yards and a touchdown, his 10th consecutive game with more than 100 yards on the ground. However, Miller went backwards almost more often than not (18 official rushes, 35 yards, including five sacks), and Clemson actually outrushed the vaunted Buckeyes' rushers 198-193.
"Ohio State is the third-leading rushing team in the nation. So, you know, 190-something is still not good, but we'll take it," safety Robert Smith (Woodland) said. "They're going to run the ball. That's what they do, just like Georgia Tech.
"But I'm just proud of my team coming out, getting the first BCS win in the state of South Carolina. So that's real big."
Clemson is almost certain to complete the year in the top 10 of the final Associated Press poll, which would be the school's first such feat since 1990.
"I really think more than anything it's a respect thing, letting the nation know Clemson is a great football program," defensive end Corey Crawford said. "We can play with anybody in the country."
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