Swinney relives the "magic moment" of Renfrow's title-winning catch


by - Senior Writer -
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Hunter Renfrow cradles the ball after the title-winning catch

CHARLOTTE, NC – Those final two minutes and one second are ingrained in the mind of every Clemson fan. You know where you were. You know what you were doing. You know how you felt before, during and after the drive that sealed Clemson’s second national championship in football.

Now we know how head coach Dabo Swinney felt, thanks to the ACC Football Kickoff in Charlotte this week.

The drive will go down as perhaps the most important in Clemson history. Trailing Alabama 31-28 with 2:01 left on the game clock (Alabama scored with 2:07 to play and six seconds ran off the clock during the kickoff), quarterback Deshaun Watson engineered a drive for the ages. It was a drive that culminated with Hunter Renfrow’s touchdown reception in the front corner of the end zone.

The catch set off a celebration for the fans, and co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott tackled Swinney from behind as both coaches realized the dream of winning a title.

During this week’s ACC Kickoff, Swinney recounted in detail how he felt during those final, dramatic minutes in Raymond James Stadium. Swinney said there wasn’t panic on the Clemson sideline after Hurts’ touchdown that gave the Tide the 31-28 lead.

“I didn’t think about it. It was just, this is what you do,” Swinney said. “This is why we prepare and spend hours and hours and hours– you just executed, you know, what you’re prepared to do. I don’t know how to explain it other than that. You are so focused and locked into your decisions and you know it was, I felt good. I was kinda mad the quarterback (Alabama’s Jalen Hurts) scored. I was still mad about the third and 23. Where the guy got the crazy play–the double pass and all that.

“But when I looked at the clock, I was like, ‘OK, there’s 2:07 we need a good return here. Let’s just get a good starting point field position wise– we got a chance. We got the best player in the country.’ You know, let’s go play. There was just a poise and Deshaun was like, ‘Let’s go.’ In fact, he told his teammates, 'Let’s go be legendary.' That’s what he told his teammates, and we just executed. We had a good plan; we had a good little two-minute, nobody panicked– it was like as soon as he scored, as soon as we saw him running, here are our calls, here’s our thoughts right here.”

The Tigers run the hurry-up no-huddle offense as their regular offense, so a quick score is part of the routine.

“We practice two-minute drill every week, it’s what we do, and we only needed a field goal,” Swinney said. “I’ll script the situation - I’m like all right boys we’ve only got two minutes or a minute 45, you got one timeout, need a field goal to win it, or you need a touchdown to win. Whatever it may be, and we execute that all the time. We come right out and hit (Jordan) Leggett and we just kind of got in a rhythm.

“Obviously, guys made big plays. The play to Mike (Williams), the throw by Deshaun and then we had a little lull there on third down where we were a little long getting the play in. But we needed the right play, and that third-and-3 to Renfrow was huge because that allowed us to clock the ball. Then we come back, and we hit Leggett on an unbelievable play. Which then, we were like we have a chance to get a touchdown here. We still haven't used a timeout - we had one timeout left. It was a very intense, but very, very, very focused drive.”

With 19 seconds left on the clock, Watson found Leggett on the left sideline for 17 yards and a first down at the Alabama nine-yard line.

“I remember after we hit Leggett we called the timeout and they come all over there, and they were all just talking, and it was like a mad house was going on in the huddle right there,” Swinney said. “They were just so excited and into the moment, and I just went off on them. ‘Shut up!’ I just started yelling at them all, and they all looked at me, and I went, ‘Is this a blast or what? Are you kidding me? We are in the national championship boys! This is unbelievable! Let’s take a deep breath here.’ And they all laughed, and we had a little loose moment there, and then I was talking with Tony (Elliott) and Jeff (Scott) about a couple, two or three, plays.”

The Tigers called a pass to Leggett in the back of the end zone that fell incomplete, and on the next play, Williams was interfered with, giving Clemson a first-and-goal at the Alabama two.

“Then the PI (pass interference) put us in a situation where we were able to just go right off, we had two calls, what we thought was best play,” he said. “Inside the five, they had been very consistent with what they had done, and we got six seconds with the ball Deshaun’s hands - if it’s not there he’s gonna throw it away or a clean run in or whatever. We got a timeout, and we’ll kick a field-goal and go win it in overtime.

“So, we were talking through all those things, but as soon as we saw them line up - and Renfrow did an unbelievable job of setting his defender. You know, a lot of times guys, with plays like that, get anxious, and they go too fast, and they give a guy in early key, but he went got his defender and did a great job of sticking him, freezing his feet. Then Renfrow’s so fast, and his defender had to run the hump. It was a well-executed play and a magic moment.”

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