One For the Ages: I Don't Believe What I Just Saw
|Sunday, October 2, 2016, 12:36 PM- -|
CLEMSON – I don’t believe what I just saw. I don’t BELIEVE what I just saw.
Legendary broadcaster Jack Buck uttered those words to a national television audience after the Dodgers’ Kirk Gibson limped out of the training and hit a game-winning home run off of the A’s Dennis Eckersley in the 1988 World Series.
Following Clemson’s thrilling – is there any other word that can describe it – 42-36 win over Louisville in the early hours Sunday morning, I turned to ESPN’s Ryan McGee and did my best Jack Buck impersonation.
I don’t believe what I just saw. I don’t BELIEVE what I just saw.
I’ve been covering Clemson full-time since 2008, and I’ve been covering college football for more years than I can remember and that was the best game I’ve seen in person. It was incredible from start to finish, and it was filled with more stops and starts and drama and jaw-dropping plays than any I can remember.
The Death Valley crowd? I was there for the Miami game way back when, and I was there for Boston College. I was there when “We Will Rock You” echoed throughout the night against Florida St. and I’ve been there for other games where the crowd was a difference.
Saturday night, the fans imposed their will on the outcome. The Cards suffered pre-snap penalties on the contest’s first two plays, and the fans stayed with it all night. Right until the very end, when they were needed most.
In the end, it all came down to one play. Just one play. Florida St.’s loss to North Carolina earlier in the day turned the top-five matchup into a battle for supremacy in the ACC Atlantic Division. But it was about more than that. It was about control of the ACC, a berth in the ACC Championship Game and on down the line perhaps a spot in the College Football Playoff.
And it all came down to one play, with Louisville facing a 4th-and-12 at the Clemson with the clock winding down, the Death Valley crowd at full throat and superstar quarterback Lamar Jackson staring down a tired Clemson defense for the final time.
The Cards overcame four sacks and three turnovers in the first half while rallying from 18 down at halftime to score 26 unanswered points against that same defense. Setting the school record with 99 plays and outgaining Clemson 568-507 in total yards, Louisville handled, at least for large stretches in the second half, the noise of the crowd.
The Cardinals grabbed control with a touchdown that put them up 36-28 with just 7:52 to play, and while people will remember the crowd storming the field and the Cardinals’ play and all of Jackson’s thrilling moments, the game’s most decisive play was Artavis Scott’s 77-yard kickoff return that set up a quick touchdown midway through the fourth quarter.
Clemson forced a three-and-out and Louisville’s next series, but Watson hit Jordan Leggett on a 31-yard touchdown to grab the lead. I looked up at the clock and my first thought was that Clemson had scored too quick and left Jackson and the Louisville offense too much time. I was right. Much like they had for most of the second half, the Cardinals marched down the field in methodical fashion, chunks of yards eaten up by Jackson’s legs and wide open receivers.
Clemson’s defense stood in the middle of the field, hands on hips and gasping for air, as Louisville prepared for a 4th-and-7 and the Clemson nine. Then the Cards did the Tigers a favor and called a timeout. The crowd’s deafening roar subsided to more of a rumble during the timeout, the fans and the defense trying to gather their reserves for one last stand.
The crowd affected the game again when Louisville retook the field, forcing another procedure penalty that pushed the Cardinals back another five yards. Those five yards were huge.
Much like Gibson limped out of the trainer’s room and hobbled to the plate to face the game’s best closer that night in Dodger Stadium, the Clemson defense endeavored to rise up one last time as the crowd did its best to give their team a final push.
The play seemed to start in slow motion as Jackson hit wide receiver James Quick in the flat, and an almost audible groan could be heard as Quick raced for the first down marker and perhaps the end zone. Division title. Rankings. Possible ACC title. College Football Playoff. It was all on the line as Quick made his way down the right sideline.
He was pushed out by corner Marcus Edmond, a redshirt junior who entered the season with just 59 career snaps on defense and spent most of last season as a wide receiver on the scout team. Edmond pushed Quick out of bounds short of the marker – one yard short – proving that the crowd (thanks to the penalty) had played its role in the outcome.
Clemson’s defensive players mustered enough juice to race to the sidelines in jubilation and the Clemson fans in front of the press sunk to their seats in exhaustion. The Tigers ran the final seconds off the clock and a deserving fan base mobbed its deserving heroes in the middle of the field.
I took one final look at the scoreboard and thought to myself, that’s the greatest game I’ve ever covered. It had all the elements – a quick Louisville lead, a 21-0 Clemson run, a Louisville field goal, Clemson getting a final touchdown in the waning seconds of the first half, a 26-0 Louisville run and a final 14-0 run by the Tigers that made the difference.
Along the way we were thrilled and entertained, and for the fans there were moments of pure elation followed extreme despair and despondency.
And every bit of it was great.
I can’t believe what I just saw.