In the five years of the College Football Playoff, the majority of semifinals have been lopsided results. The beginning of No. 2 Ohio State’s matchup with No. 3 Clemson made it seem the Buckeyes would continue that trend, cruise to a win over the Tigers and secure a spot in the national championship against LSU.
Instead, Clemson’s defense found its footing, and the offense found a rhythm. The Tigers took the lead with 1:49 to play and picked off Ohio State in the end zone about a minute later, taking a 29-23 comeback win and earning the chance to defend their national title.
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The Buckeyes opened a 16-0 lead midway through the second quarter, and could have held a larger advantage had the offense not stalled twice inside the 10-yard line and running back J.K. Dobbins dropped a screen pass that had a good chance of turning into a 16-yard touchdown.
Settling for field goals quickly came back to bite Ohio State. Clemson scored two quick touchdowns to end the half, including one on a 67-yard highlight run from quarterback Trevor Lawrence, and suddenly the Tigers had closed the lead to 16-14 at halftime. Lawrence hit running back Travis Etienne for a 53-yard touchdown on a screen pass to take the Tigers’ first lead of the game in the third quarter, and Clemson had all the momentum.
Ohio State thought it had gotten back on top with a fumble-recovery touchdown a couple of drives later, but it was overturned to an incomplete pass, a call that will likely continue to spark controversy. The Buckeyes did get the lead early in the fourth quarter, however, when Fields threw a 22-yard score to wide receiver Chris Olave. Fields finished 30 for 46 for 320 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
Clemson’s game-winning drive was lightning-quick. The series went 94 yards in 1:18, with Etienne notching his second receiving touchdown on the fourth play of the drive. Lawrence was 18 for 33 for 259 yards and two scores through the air. With plenty of time left, the Buckeyes also moved downfield with plenty of time. But Fields and Olave weren’t on the same page on second-and-7 from the 23, and Fields threw his second pick of the night — and just the third of his stellar season.
Knocking off a team that was ranked No. 1 in the nation for much of the year should quell some of the criticism of Clemson’s heretofore weak schedule. Still, after a 63-28 win over Oklahoma earlier Saturday, LSU will be the favorite in the national championship.
Sporting News tracked live scoring updates and highlights from the College Football Playoff semifinal game between Ohio State and Clemson:
Ohio State vs. Clemson final score
Ohio State vs. Clemson updates, highlights from CFP semifinal game
Final: Clemson 29, Ohio State 23
Midnight: INTERCEPTION, Clemson. The Tigers will win. Looked like a miscommunication in the end zone; Fields throws it right to a defender, with no receiver in the area. Olave cut the other way just as his quarterback released.
Midnight: Ohio State takes a timeout, facing second-and-7 from about the 20 with 43 seconds left. (Welcome to Sunday, East coasters).
11:57 p.m.: Fields and Dobbins have the Buckeyes across midfield quickly.
11:50 p.m.: TOUCHDOWN, Clemson. In a flash. Lawrence hits Etienne on an RPO, and he takes it for a 34-yard score. Score was very fast, though, leaving 1:49 and two timeouts for the Buckeyes to try to answer. The 2-point conversion is good. Clemson 29, Ohio State 23.
11:49 p.m.: Clemson is around field goal range after a few plays. Buckle up.
11:43 p.m.: The Buckeyes punt it back to Clemson with about three minutes left. The Tigers will begin inside their own 10.
11:37 p.m.: Fields threw an arm punt on third-and-long interception, but a defensive holding penalty negates it, giving the Buckeyes a fresh set of downs.
11:24 p.m.: TOUCHDOWN, Ohio State. Fields recovers from his second interception of the season, capping an 84-yard drive with a 23-yard touchdown pass to Chris Olave on fourth-and-1. Then, a somewhat puzzling decision to kick an extra point rather than go for the 2-point conversion. Buckeyes by two with about 12 minutes left. Ohio State 23, Clemson 21.
Third quarter: Clemson 21, Ohio State 16
11:09 p.m.: INTERCEPTION, Clemson. Fields gets picked off. Clemson is building momentum.
11:05 p.m.: You make the call. Bonus points if you’re rooting for Ohio State and think it was an incompletion, or are rooting for Clemson and think it was a fumble.
11:02 p.m.: An Ohio State touchdown is taken off the board. What was initially ruled a fumble is overturned to an incompletion, nullifying the Buckeye return that followed. Clemson still has to punt, though.
10:53 p.m.: Fields nearly throws an interception on the first play of the drive, but it’s dropped. Meanwhile, Dobbins is back on the field.
10:48 p.m.: TOUCHDOWN, Clemson. The Tigers have their first lead of the game, after Etienne takes a screen 53 yards to the end zone, capitalizing on a drive that was extended by a roughing the kicker penalty on a punt. Buckeyes need to find their offense. Clemson 21, Ohio State 16.
10:33 p.m.: Dobbins seems to be injured. He pulls up lame and leaves the field after trying to run a route on the Buckeyes’ first play of the second half.
Halftime: Ohio State 16, Clemson 14
9:58 p.m.: TOUCHDOWN, Clemson. Lawrence with a huge play, making a couple of dudes miss for a 67-yard touchdown run. Ohio State 16, Clemson 14.
9:52 p.m.: Now Dobbins stays down for a bit due to an injury. His leg was bent awkwardly during a tackle, but eventually he walks off without too much issue.
9:45 p.m.: TOUCHDOWN, Clemson. The Tigers get back in it with an 8-yard Travis Etienne score. Way too early to start chasing points. Ohio State 16, Clemson 7.
9:42 p.m.: Lawrence gets up, jogs off and returns to the game immediately.
9:39 p.m: Trevor Lawrence appears injured after taking a big hit from cornerback Shaun Wade, with some help from Chase Young. Wade is ejected for targeting after a review.
9:33 p.m.: FIELD GOAL, Ohio State. Second drive in a row the Buckeyes kick a chip shot after a Dobbins drop. If Clemson can’t score at all, though, it won’t matter much. Ohio State 16, Clemson 0.
9:30 p.m.: Ouch, Dobbins drops what may have been a touchdown pass. This time, it would’ve taken a much less impressive effort than his near-diving conversion earlier.
9:12 p.m.; FIELD GOAL, Ohio State. The Buckeyes have kicked field goals of 21 and 22 yards, leaving the door open for Clemson for now. Ohio State 13, Clemson 0.
9:10 p.m.: Ohio State will likely kick another short field goal here, after Dobbins can’t quite make a diving catch on third-and-goal.
First quarter: Ohio State 10, Clemson 0
9:01 p.m.: Another huge run from Dobbins means the Buckeyes will start the second quarter with first-and-goal. He nearly housed his second one.
8:42 p.m.: TOUCHDOWN, Ohio State. Well then. J.K. Dobbins finds a hole and is gone, 68 yards untouched on the first play of the drive. Flashes of Ezekiel Elliott, some would say. Buckeyes 10, Clemson 0.
8:39 p.m.: MISSED FIELD GOAL, Clemson. B.T. Potter pushes a 49-yarder wide right, a couple of plays after the Buckeyes nearly get an interception. Ohio State keeps its lead.
8:29 p.m.: FIELD GOAL, Ohio State. The Tigers defense toughens up with goal-to-go, and the Buckeyes settle for three points on the opening drive. Ohio State 3, Clemson 0.
8:25 p.m.: With the help of a crazy catch from Garrett Wilson, Ohio State is inside the 10-yard line.
8:21 p.m.: Ohio State begins with the ball after a touchback.
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