AUBURN, Ala. – It was a bitter way for the Clemson Tigers to win.
After squandering a big lead then forcing overtime, the Tigers lost a 27-24 overtime thriller to 16th-ranked Auburn Saturday night in Jordan-Hare Stadium when kicker Chandler Catanzaro missed a 31-yard field that would have forced a second overtime.
Clemson was inches from winning the game seconds earlier but a Kyle Parker pass slipped off the fingers of Jaron Brown in the end zone for what would have been the winning touchdown.
Catanzaro appeared to kick a tying field goal only to have it waved off due to an illegal snap. Moved back five yards, the Clemson redshirt freshman missed wide to the left.
Auburn (3-0) had opened the overtime with a 39-yard field goal from Wes Byrum, forcing the Tigers (2-1) to score.
Clemson had answered Auburn’s second-half comeback with a critical touchdown drive that culminate with a two-yard Andre Ellington touchdown run with 12:36 remaining, tying the score at 24-24. It was the Tigers’ first substantial offensive production in the second half but it couldn’t have been more timely.
It was enough to force overtime.
It had all changed in the third quarter when Auburn turned the domination tables on Clemson, wiping out a 14-point halftime deficit with two long touchdown drives that energized the home team and the 87,451 fans in attendance.
After seemingly sleepwalking through the first half, Auburn was overpowering after the break. The Tigers chewed up yardage on a 61-yard scoring drive that cut the Clemson lead to 17-10 midway through the third quarter.
Smothering the Clemson offense, Auburn tied the game at 17-17 with a 72-yard march that had an air of inevitability about it. When it appeared Clemson had caught a break after an official ruled Auburn’s Darvin Adams out of bounds on an apparent touchdown call, a video replay reversed the call, giving the Tigers’ an eight-yard score that tied the game.
The Auburn defense, gutted in the first half, shut down Clemson after the break. It closed the big holes that Andre Ellington and Jamie Harper had found running up the middle and pressured quarterback Kyle Stanley with blitzes.
Already wobbled, Clemson was blindsided by a 78-yard touchdown pass from Newton to Terrell Zachary late in the third quarter for a 24-17 Auburn lead. Zachary was wide open behind the Clemson defense and had only to avoid the out of bounds stripe racing toward the score.
After gaining just 116 yards in the first half, Auburn roasted Clemson’s defense for 258 yards and three touchdowns in the third quarter.
It was a stunning reversal in the nationally televised game.
Walking into the storm of Auburn’s pre-game enthusiasm, Clemson appeared unimpressed, taking the first possession and marching 76 yards for a touchdown.
Auburn’s defense looked unprepared for the Tigers’ running game, which was responsible for 10 of the 12 plays on the opening drive which culminated in an eight-yard touchdown pass from Kyle Parker to Jamie Harper with 8:59 left in the opening quarter.
Andre Ellington set the early tone with a pair of strong runs as Clemson marched crisply downfield for the first score.
Meanwhile, Auburn’s offense couldn’t get started, failing to gain a first down in the Tigers’ first three possessions.
Clemson stretched its lead to 10-0 on a 42-yard Chandler Catanzaro field goal midway through the second quarter. The Tigers appeared headed for a second touchdown until an Auburn blitz led to an eight-yard loss, stalling the drive.
Late in the second quarter, Clemson’s DeAndre McDaniel made a leaping interception off Auburn quarterback Cameron Newton at the Clemson 39-yard line.
Moments later, running back Jamie Harper laid out in the end zone to make a spectacular 24-yard touchdown reception, giving Clemson a 17-0 with 1;14 remaining in the first half.
In a young season in which the ACC’s image has been battered by losses in high-profile national games – and some not-so-high-profile games – Clemson’s visit to Auburn offered a chance for the league to pick up a valuable victory over the 16th-ranked Tigers.
For Clemson, it was also a chance to erase more than 50 years winless years against Auburn. The Tigers entered the steamy evening having lost 13 in a row to Auburn, their last victory coming in 1951, 18 years before Clemson coach Dabo Swinney was born.