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SEC referee explains two controversial calls in Clemson's Fiesta Bowl victory

Trevor Lawrence

Quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) is congratulated after Clemson defeated Ohio State 29-23 in the Fiesta Bowl college football playoff semifinal Saturday, Dec. 28, 2019, in Glendale, Ariz. Ross D. Franklin/AP

GLENDALE, ARIZ. — Social media got wacky with wisecracks from Clemson fans when it was announced that an officiating crew from the Southeastern Conference would work the Tigers’ Fiesta Bowl game Saturday night against Ohio State.

The league famed for its “It Just Means More” motto includes Clemson’s arch-rival South Carolina and frequent postseason foe Alabama.

After Clemson’s 29-23 victory in the College Football Playoff semifinal at State Farm Stadium, Ohio State fans (and maybe a few Gamecocks fans) were the ones complaining.

Clemson came out on the plus side of two critical calls made by replay officials during the game.

Ohio State cornerback Shaun Wade was penalized for targeting and ejected for a second-quarter hit on Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence with the Buckeyes ahead, 16-0. Wade was a third-team All-Big Ten selection this season.

A third-quarter reversal had a bigger impact.

Clemson led 21-16 when Tigers wide receiver Justyn Ross was hit by cornerback Jeff Okudah and fumbled after an apparent catch. Safety Jordan Fuller grabbed the ball and scored an Ohio State touchdown, but replay officials determined it was an incomplete pass.

Here is the full text of referee Kevin Williamson’s answers to questions from a Fiesta Bowl pool reporter:

On the targeting call: “This was a crown-of-the-helmet targeting foul. So it did eliminate a lot of other factors. Initial contact was with the crown of the helmet. Then he wrapped up for the tackle. So at that point, targeting was properly called.”

On whether the call was made on the field: “Replay initiated it and they made the call.”

On video angles used to make the call on the Ross catch/incomplete pass play: “We had a lot of good looks on it. We put on fast motion and slow motion. The player did not complete the process of the catch, so, therefore, the pass was incomplete.”

Pressed to explain the Ross call: “After the video, instant replay in the stadium as well as back at the video center, they both looked at it slow and fast and they determined when he moved, the ball was becoming loose in his hands and he did not complete the process of the catch.”

Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff

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