NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Thursday, December 31, 2015, 7:59 PM
The Clemson Tigers celebrate a third-quarter touchdown in their rout of Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl. Next up? The NCAA National Championship game.
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — How fitting it was that the orange-turned-aqua seats at Sun Life Stadium for the Orange Bowl were predominantly filled by orange-clad fans, about three-quarters of the 67,615 in attendance cheering on the No. 1 team in the nation. Yes, the only undefeated team left in college football, the one which was a 3.5-point underdog to the No. 4 Oklahoma Sooners in this College Football Playoff Semifinal.
The Tigers and their supporters came here looking not only for a spot in the national championship game, but for respect. They got both.
After trailing by one point at halftime, Clemson dominated the second half en route to a 37-17 victory to improve to 14-0. The ACC champions’ chance at perfection will come in the national title game on Jan. 11 in Glendale against the winner of the Cotton Bowl between No. 2 Alabama or No. 3 Michigan State.
Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, the school’s first-ever Heisman finalist, rushed for 145 yards and a score and went 16-for-30 with 187 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Wayne Gallman rushed for 150 yards and two scores.
The Tigers’ defense pitched a shutout in the second half despite playing without star defensive lineman Shaq Lawson, who left in the first half with a left knee injury and at halftime was ruled out for the rest of the game.
The game started inauspiciously for Clemson as the Sooners (11-2) scored a touchdown on their opening drive for the sixth time this season, Samaje Perine rushing in from 1 yard out.
Dabo Swinney willingness to pull out all the stops resulted in a game-changing play early in the second, when the Clemson coach called for a fake punt on fourth-and-4 at the Oklahoma 44-yard line. Punter Andy Teasdall, who attempted a failed fake punt on his own in the ACC title game and was reamed out on the sideline by Swinney for it, threw a perfect touch pass up the left sideline to defensive tackle Christian Wilkins for a 31-yard gain.
Two plays later, Watson rushed for a 5-yard touchdown to give Clemson a 10-7 lead with 12:45 left in the second quarter.
Baker Mayfield, who was intercepted twice in the second half, threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Mark Andrews with 1:34 left in the half to give the Sooners a 17-16 lead.
Watson cost Clemson an opportunity to wrestle the lead back from Oklahoma right before halftime with an interception, but the dual-threat dynamo more than made up for it in the second half, completing a 35-yard touchdown pass to Hunter Renfrow with 4:07 left in the third to put Clemson up 30-17.
Gallman’s 4-yard touchdown with 10:48 left in the fourth put the Tigers up by 20, and Ben Boulware’s interception of Mayfield at first-and-goal from the 5-yard line with 7:23 left booked Clemson a ticket to the title game.