MIAMI — Andre Ellington ran 68 yards for a touchdown, Sammy Watkins had his 12th scoring reception of the season and Clemson took a 17-14 lead over West Virginia after one high-octane quarter of the Orange Bowl on Wednesday night.
Chandler Catanzaro had a 42-yard field goal late in the quarter for Clemson, the Atlantic Coast Conference champion.
Shawne Alston had a touchdown run and Tavon Austin hauled in a scoring catch from Geno Smith for West Virginia, the Big East champion looking to win its third Bowl Championship Series game in the last seven years.
It was the highest-scoring first quarter in Orange Bowl history, topping the 26 points that Georgia and TCU combined to score in the opening period of the 1942 matchup.
Among the many things that Clemson coach Dabo Swinney and West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen agreed on in the weeks leading up to the game was that the Orange Bowl wouldn't be lacking for offense.
It didn't take them long to be proven correct.
Ellington's first three carries of the night delivered a total of zero yards. His fourth went into the Orange Bowl record books, a 68-yard untouched burst for a touchdown that was the third-longest scoring run in the game's history.
Undeterred, West Virginia answered quickly, thanks in large part to a spectacular play by Andrew Buie, who caught a pass from Smith and was tackled at the Clemson 28 by Tigers safety Rashard Hall. Small problem: Hall's body hit the ground, but Smith's never did, other than his hand. He rolled off Hall, sprung back to his feet and darted about another 15 yards. Alston scored on a 4-yard run two plays later.
With that, the back-and-forth was on. Clemson went up 14-7 on a 27-yard touchdown reception by Watkins — the 12th of the season for the freshman who grew up in South Fort Myers, about two hours from Miami. West Virginia tied it again 1:49 later on an 8-yard scoring run by Austin.
So in the first 12 minutes, the teams combined for four touchdowns and 314 yards of offense.
For both teams, being at the Orange Bowl brought out a sense of nostalgia.
West Virginia has 19 players from Florida on its roster, more than half of them from the greater Miami region — including Smith and his favorite target, Stedman Bailey. They both played at Miramar High, just a few miles from Sun Life Stadium, the site of Wednesday's matchup.
"It's a tremendous opportunity to be able to be down here, and we hope that the exposure that's existed, not only from a South Florida standpoint but from a national standpoint — the magnitude of the game, being the only game on Wednesday night ... there's going to be a lot of eyes on us," Holgorsen said. "So we hope that it cannot only advertise the program and the school but also continue to try to lead to as many South Florida recruits as we possibly can."
Clemson's return to the Orange Bowl came loaded with symmetry.
The Tigers last played in the game 30 years ago, winning the school's only national title by beating Nebraska 22-15. And in the month since Clemson won the ACC title, players heard plenty about both that game and what a return to the Orange Bowl means to the Tigers' fan base.
It even brought back special meaning for Swinney, who was 12 when that Clemson-Nebraska title tilt was played — but he still remembers plenty about that game and that Clemson team, coached by Danny Ford.
Like Swinney, Ford is a son of Alabama, and the two remain close to this day.
"If you were from Alabama, everybody in that state watched this game because it was Danny Ford," Swinney said. "You know, we all loved Coach Ford when he was a player at Alabama. ... Wasn't many options back in those days, either. Laverne and Shirley or something on the other channel, Lawrence Welk or one of them, and Hee-Haw. You didn't have a lot of choices. Had three channels. So I promise you, I watched the game."
Three decades later, he was coaching in the game, trying to deliver Clemson's first 11-win season since that national championship year.
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