AUBURN, AL – Kyle Parker’s pass to Jaron Brown in the end zone seemed to hang in the air forever before glancing off Brown’s hands and skidding out of bounds. Parker turned around and grimaced at the sideline in two kinds of agony – mental and physical.
That third down play in overtime was the last play of the night for a bruised Parker. He had taken a helmet to the back during one third quarter play, but later came up off of the Jordan-Hare Stadium grass to lead Clemson to a tying touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
But it was a slightly overthrown pass to tight end Dwayne Allen late in regulation and the pass to Brown that many people will remember, unfortunately overshadowing a gritty and determined performance by the offense.
“We missed a play to Dwayne Allen there in regulation to set up the win,” Clemson head Dabo Swinney said following Clemson’s 27-24 loss to Auburn. “Missed a play in overtime on the little waggle play there, it would have been a great catch by Jaron. We’ve got to go on the road and make those plays.”
A dropped snap on that third quarter play caused Parker to scramble, and he took a shot to his upper ribs and back that caused him discomfort the rest of the night, but the redshirt sophomore wasn’t using injury as an excuse after the game.
“I think it was a bad pass,” he said of the overtime incompletion. “If I have anything to say about it, I could have made it a lot easier on him. I think he did a great job getting open. I take 100 percent of the blame for that.
“I just got beat up and I feel awful right now, but I didn’t come here to watch our guys and leave them when they needed me the most. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the job done. Injury or no injury- there’s no excuse.”
Parker completed 21 of 35 passes for 227 yards and two touchdowns, and Allen said he was impressed with Parker’s performance.
"He is tough. Tough,” said Allen. “Here is a guy sitting with a million bucks in his bank account. He gets hurt. If I was in his situation I don’t know how I would have reacted. I know that I have my money in the bank. I know that I have a career after football. But Kyle just got back out there. He sucked it up. He got back in the game. He wanted to win.”
Parker said he would have to have been hurt worse to not go back in the game.
“I knew I was coming back in,” Parker said. “I told them they were going to have to take me off on a stretcher before I was coming out. It was one of those games.”
Running back Jamie Harper, who was the recipient of Parker’s two touchdown tosses, said Parker told the team in the huddle just before the tying touchdown drive that he was hurting.
“Kyle was a little banged up,” Harper said. “He told us, ‘I’ve led you guys this far, now it’s time for ya’ll to lead me.’ We just went down there and gave them all we had. He’s a strong- willed guy. I know he was hurting bad, but he kept his head held high and just tried to keep being a leader, but sometimes somebody else has to take over.”
Offensive coordinator Billy Napier said Parker’s injury did affect the play-calling.
“A little bit,” Napier said when he was asked the question. “But really, KP said that he was fine- a little bit banged up, nothing major. He definitely had something that physically he had some pain there in the second part of the game, but I think he’s going to be okay. That’s a tough sucker- that guy is a competitor. I think that can be contagious and rub off on the rest of them.”
* In what was undoubtedly one of the most physical football games I’ve seen, Napier said he was proud of the way his offense responded with that fourth quarter drive.
“I was impressed with our kids and the resiliency they showed tonight,” Napier said. “The mental toughness. We spent a lot of time this week talking about getting yourself mentally prepared for that kind of environment. We knew there were going to be punches back and forth and that it was going to be a battle- that’s the kind of game it was. We expected that and I think our kids showed up ready to play that type of game, so that was great to see. Obviously, we would like to win the football game and make a couple of plays that could point it in the other direction but I think it’s important that our kids see, in terms of looking at the big picture, that our goals are still intact. That was a football team that has the intangibles to be successful. I was personally really proud of our players on offense, in particular, having worked with them all week- they did what we asked them to do and that’s show up and compete and be tough, not only physically but mentally. You just feel for your kids- you try to put them in a position to be successful. That’s a great group of guys in that locker room right now. I’m proud to be associated with them. “
* Dwayne Allen said the offense knew there would come a time when they would face adversity.
“We talked about it all day today that there’s going to come a time in the game where we are going to have to step up as an offense and make plays and we just dominated- that’s what we did,” Allen said. “Let’s get a score. Let the defense get a stop and let’s win this game- that’s what’s going through my mind. I have nothing but faith and belief in all 115 of these guys on the team, all 74 that travel with us. I believe in them and I just knew that we were going to pull it out- we came up a little short. It felt awesome. We knew the defense was going to get a stop and get us the ball back and we were going to do what was necessary to win the game- It was a couple of plays here or a couple of plays there that kept us from doing that.”