Title Game Bound! Tigers blast Irish en route to Cotton Bowl win


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Justyn Ross stiff-arms a defender on his way to his first touchdown
Justyn Ross stiff-arms a defender on his way to his first touchdown

ARLINGTON, TX – Hello Santa Clara.

No. 2 Clemson advances to the College Football Playoff National Championship for the third time in four years after defeating Notre Dame 30-3 Saturday afternoon in the Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. The Tigers advance to play the winner of Alabama-Oklahoma. The game will be played on Monday, January 7th at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.

The Tigers improve to 14-0 on the season, while Notre Dame’s perfect season comes to an end with a 12-1 record. The Tigers have won three of four games against Notre Dame in series history.

Clelin Ferrell had his 27th career sack in the game, tying William Perry for fourth in Clemson history.

Clemson freshman Justyn Ross has season highs with six receptions, 148 receiving yards, and two touchdowns. He had one previous 100-yard game with 103 on three catches against Georgia Southern.

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said he is proud of his team and excited for this group of senior.

"This is what we came here to do," Swinney said. This senior group just won their 54th game and they're going back to their third national championship in four years. And, man, we're so excited to have the opportunity to go to California and represent the ACC and play another opponent. We're going to celebrate this tonight. All the glory to God, no doubt about it. It's almost unbelievable, but we did it and we're here. And, I'm proud of our guys."

Each team punted on their initial drives but the Tigers got a break on the second drive by the Irish. Quarterback Ian Book was stopped by Clelin Ferrell on a short run and fumbled the football. The ball sat on the turf for a few seconds before Ferrell picked it up. The call on the field was down by contact but a review showed Book lose the ball before he was down and Clemson took over at its own 47.

Nine plays and 31 yards later Greg Huegel hit a 40-yard field goal and Clemson led 3-0. The Irish responded with a quality drive and Justin Yoon hit a 28-yard field goal that tied the score at 3-3 with 4:31 to play in the first quarter.

It was Clemson’s turn to make what looked like a big mistake. On the ensuing kickoff, Derion Kendrick elected to bring the ball out of the endzone and fumbled as he neared the 20. The ball didn’t roll out of bounds and was recovered by the Irish. However, a review showed the ball touched the boundary and Clemson took over its own 13.

The Irish put together another nice drive but faced a 4th-and-4 at the Clemson 34. Instead of kicking the long field goal Notre Dame left the offense on the field, and Book’s pass down the right sideline was broken up by Isaiah Simmons. The Tigers took over and needed just three plays to score.

Etienne broke off a nice run on first down and Lawrence hit Trevion Thompson for six yards and a first down on the second play. With a 1st-and-10 at the 48, Lawrence saw 1-on-1 coverage on the outside and dropped a beautiful 52-yard throw into the hands of Justyn Ross for the game’s first touchdown. The extra point was blocked and Clemson led 9-3 early in the second quarter. The reception was Ross’ 5th reception this season of 50-plus yards.

The Clemson defense settled in and the offense began to move the ball, but one possession midway through the second quarter ended with a missed field goal. The Tigers forced another Notre Dame punt and the Tigers took over at their own 15 with 4:56 left in the half.

An 11-yard run by Lawrence and a holding penalty put Clemson in Irish territory but the Tigers faced a 3rd-and-14 with under two minutes to play. Lawrence dropped back and fired a missile to Ross over the top, completing a 42-yard pitch-and-catch that made it 16-3 with 1:44 to play in the half.

With that score, Clemson broke the 600-point mark for the season, joining the 2013 FSU squad as the only two teams in ACC history to do so.

Clemson forced another Notre Dame punt but had the ball at its own 20 with 48 seconds to play. A 32-yard pass to Hunter Renfrow put the Tigers in Irish territory, and a roughing the passer penalty put the ball at the Notre Dame 19 with nine seconds to play. Lawrence threw a pass towards Higgins in the end zone but the corner tipped the ball in the air. Higgins grabbed the deflection with one hand and got his foot down for a touchdown, and Clemson led 23-3 at intermission.

Lawrence finished the game completing 27-39 passes for a solid 327 yards and three touchdowns.

The teams muddled through much of the third quarter but the Irish put together a drive late. They reached the Clemson 26, but back-to-back sacks of Book made it 3rd-and-22. Book forced a pass into coverage and it was intercepted by Nolan Turner, who returned it 24 yards.

Etienne ran for six yards on the first play of the drive, and two plays later raced 62 yards almost untouched into the end zone for a long touchdown that gave Clemson the 30-3 lead. With the 62-yard run, Etienne sets Clemson season rushing record. It gave him 1564 on the season - Wayne Gallman had 1527 in 2015.

Etienne rushed 14 times for an impressive 109 yards and the rushing score.

Swinney credited his offensive and defensive lines for much of the team's success.

"Our guys, they got it done in the trenches. We kind of hung in there. We finally got a little run game going. But the big plays on offense, the sacks on defense created a couple of turnovers, a big play by Nolan Turner here in the second half," Swinney said.



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