It was all going according to plan for Clemson early in the Orange Bowl.
After a three-and-out series on their first possession, the Tigers had put up points on their next three drives. Electrifying playmakers Andre Ellington and Sammy Watkins had each scored a touchdown and were looking worthy of the pre-game hype surrounding them. True, West Virginia was proving a frisky foe on the other side of the ball, matching the first two scores and even jumping ahead, 21-17, early in the second quarter. But Dabo Swinney's Orange-clad troops marched right down the field in response to that Mountaineers' drive, needing just six plays to set up a first and goal at the three-yard line.
Ellington took a handoff on that first-and-goal play and pumped his legs toward pay dirt, pushing the ball to the 2.. to the 1.. and just to the brink of the end zone. Stumbling into a bog of bodies as he tried to cover the last few feet of his journey, Ellington was inches away from giving the three-point favorites a three-point lead (with an extra point likely to push that margin to four, for those out there who were still looking for Clemson to cover the spread).
At this moment, when Ellington pushed forward for the last foot he needed, things decidedly stopped going according to plan for Clemson.
As Ellington pumped his legs ahead, Tigers tight end Dave Allen and guard Antoine McLain raised their arms to signal touchdown. Almost, but not quite. At least, not quite yet. And certainly not for the team that Allen and McLain had presumed. Because Clemson's junior running back wasn't the only player in that pile trying to finish the play strong. Because, somehow, the ball was loosed from Ellington's grasp before he could get it to the goal line. And, most importantly, because West Virginia safety Darwin Cook saw the ball was free and plucked it from the pile.
With Allen, McLaine and most of the players on both teams presuming Ellington had indeed crossed the plane, Cook was dashing off to the other end of the field, with teammate Keith Tandy providing a buffer should any Clemson players come close in their belated pursuit. Of course, Tandy's protection would prove unnecessary as no one wearing an orange shirt would get anywhere near Cook was he sprinted 99-yards for a game-altering fumble return touchdown.
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In fact, the only person in orange that Cook would come into contact with during his run was the Orange bowl mascot, Ovie -- whom he bowled over after running through the back of the end zone.
Instead of Clemson punching in the ball to take a four-point lead, West Virginia now led 28-17 and Clemson would never again threaten West Virginia by being in position to re-take the lead.