Clemson was on the verge of taking the lead in the second quarter when Ellington ran up the middle and disappeared into a heap at the 1. A teammate signaled touchdown, but the ball came loose and Cook grabbed it, then took off with nothing but the end zone in front of him.
"Cook was the only one in the stadium who knew the ball was out," teammate Bruce Irvin said. "That was a heads-up play."
The potential 14-point swing seemed to deflate the Tigers, who had moved the ball almost at will to that point.
"They hadn't really stopped us," Swinney said. "That was huge. Then it snowballed quickly."
The Tigers were doomed when quarterback Tajh Boyd committed turnovers on consecutive Clemson plays.
After Smith ran 7 yards on a keeper for a 35-20 lead, Pat Miller intercepted Boyd's pass. Smith flipped a 1-yard touchdown pass to Austin and, on the next play a call was overturned, with the replay official determining Boyd had lost a fumble.
Alston then ran for a 1-yard touchdown with 4 seconds left in the half.
"Momentum swung not in our favor, and it was hard to recapture," Boyd said. "West Virginia is a great offense. You can't really get behind them. We couldn't stop them. Guys were gassed. Their legs were going. It was a tough loss — pretty embarrassing."
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