MIAMI — West Virginia's Darwin Cook snuffed out a potential Clemson touchdown, created a turnover, ran into the Orange Bowl record books and tackled the overstuffed orange that serves as the game's mascot.
All on the same play, no less.
Go figure: In a record-setting night for West Virginia's offense, a Mountaineers defender stole the show.
Cook stripped the ball from Clemson's Andre Ellington near the goal line, turned and ran 99 yards for a West Virginia touchdown early in the second quarter, helping the Mountaineers take a 49-20 lead over Clemson at halftime Wednesday night. West Virginia outscored Clemson 35-3 in the second quarter alone, the most points ever scored by any team in any Orange Bowl quarter.
Geno Smith threw three first-half touchdowns to Tavon Austin and ran for another score for West Virginia, looking for its third Bowl Championship Series game win in seven seasons. Shawne Alston ran for two touchdowns in the first half, the second coming with 4 seconds left. West Virginia's 49 points and the 69 combined points were BCS first-half records. Austin's three touchdown catches in the first half tied an Orange Bowl record for a game.
"We're not playing well anywhere," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said as he left the field for the first half.
Ellington ran 68 yards for a touchdown and Sammy Watkins caught his 12th scoring pass of the season for Clemson, which also got a pair of field goals from Chandler Catanzaro.
With Clemson having first-and-goal from the West Virginia 3, Ellington followed a mass of blockers toward the goal line, getting so close to breaking the plane at that at least two Tigers raised their arms in celebration in the touchdown signal.
They were right. Premature, and for the wrong team, but right nonetheless.
Cook grabbed the ball away from Ellington and took off on what became the longest defensive score in Orange Bowl history, a yard longer than Greg Mather's 98-yard fumble return for Navy in 1961. And at the end of the play, Cook wound up tackling Obie — the overstuffed orange mascot for the game.
The woman inside the mascot costume later said she was fine.
The orange-clad crew on the Clemson sideline couldn't say the same.
Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd was intercepted with 2:13 left in the half, Smith flipped the ball to Austin for a 3-yard touchdown pass a minute later, and the West Virginia lead was up to a whopping 42-20 — not even a full quarter after the Mountaineers were trailing 17-14. Boyd fumbled the ball away again not long afterward, setting up the seventh West Virginia touchdown.
Among the many things that 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.
Yep, they were right.
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, helping set up Alston's first rushing score.
Imagine: By halftime, that play was all but forgotten. Clemson hadn't given up 49 points in a game — forget a half — since losing 55-15 to Texas Tech in 2002.
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."
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