COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Nobody picked Texas A&M to beat Clemson, not when the Tigers came into Kyle Field with the No. 2 ranking and a defensive line that is the envy of college football.
Yet when the Aggies got the ball back with 4:03 to play, a palpable buzz filled the air and 104,794 screaming fans stood, waving white towels. Clemson had stalled out on two drives in the fourth quarter, while Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond took hit after hit, getting back up every time, delivering big plays on the vaunted Tigers defense.
What happened next can only be described as a wild, emotional, unexpected final four minutes, punctuated by a disputed call, a coach going ballistic on the sideline, one more chance for A&M, a tipped touchdown catch and much more. Clemson won 28-26, and the way this game ended will not be forgotten anytime soon.
4:03 left, fourth quarter -- Texas A&M, trailing 28-20, takes possession at its own 15
Mond hits a leaping Kendrick Rogers for a 30-yard gain to start the drive. On the next play, Mond finds tight end Jace Sternberger for 28 yards, and quickly, the Aggies are in Clemson territory. The Tigers call a timeout with 3:05 left to gather themselves and three plays later Mond finds receiver Quartney Davis, who catches the ball on a curl route at the Clemson 15, turns, slips at the 10, heads toward the left sideline and bypasses a pair of Clemson defenders blocked by fellow receiver Camron Buckley.
Clemson safety K'Von Wallace is in pursuit. Davis is thinking end zone. At the 4, he begins to lean forward and extends his arms with the ball toward the pylon. Wallace catches Davis at the 2 and knocks the ball out. It flies out of bounds. The officials rule it a touchback. After a replay review, the call stands. Clemson ball.
Clemson S Wallace: "When [Davis] caught the ball, I'm thinkin', 'Somebody's got to get the ball out his hand, because the end zone is 5 yards away.' So when he scrambled loose, I was like 'This is my time to get the ball out.'"
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney: "Give K'Von Wallace some credit, you know? ... That's what the heart of a champion looks like right there. He's giving all he's got and he goes and knocks the ball loose and creates a situation. So, you know, it's a bang-bang play, and if you're on that side of it, a very tough call ... I thought it was going to be hard to overturn. And if they'd called it the other way it would've probably been hard to overturn. But, like I said, I'm just proud of my guy for busting his butt and getting over there and knocking it loose."
Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher: "He was out of bounds [before the goal line]. ... That's a tough call to make in my opinion. That should be called from upstairs. ... We can't whine over calls. That happens. That's ball. They called it. It wasn't there."
Clemson defensive lineman Clelin Ferrell: "It was just a great play by K'Von not giving up on a play, punching that thing out. I know there's a lot of controversy over it but, hey, it happened to go our way. I don't think you can say they got cheated. We were in their house, so K'Von made a great effort play and it went our way.
Wallace: "A lot of people said it wasn't [a touchback] because of the angle they had, but I felt like if it was a different angle, they would've clearly seen that it was a touchback. So I'm glad that they made the right call, regardless of the fans and everything."
Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables: "That was just a great lesson that you never give up on a play, and it can make a difference between winning and losing."
Texas A&M quarterback Mond: "My job is trying to keep everybody encouraged, and letting everybody know we're going to get the ball back. That's what happened."
"Tough break, but hey, at the end of the day, if the kid hangs on to the ball, you ain't got a problem."Dabo Swinney
Swinney: "I've had some of them go against me, too. I've had good and bad. You live long enough, they'll even out. Tough call, certainly a tough call. Tough break, but hey, at the end of the day, if the kid hangs on to the ball, you ain't got a problem."
1:12 left, fourth quarter -- Texas A&M ball, trailing 28-20
After Davis' fumble, Clemson went three-and-out and a short punt gave the Aggies possession at the Tigers' 49. Mond found Rogers for 10 yards, then the Tigers were flagged for pass interference, moving the ball to the 24.
Mond fakes a handoff, drops back and Ferrell races around Texas A&M right tackle Dan Moore to grab Mond's right shoulder. He only gets jersey, leaving Mond's shoulder pad exposed. Mond shakes off the pressure, steps up in the pocket, looks left, then scans to his second progression, in the middle of the field, where -- you guessed it -- Rogers is being blanketed by Wallace.
Mond fires a bullet, Wallace gets his hands on it and the ball hangs in the air, but Rogers secures it with both hands. Touchdown, Texas A&M.
As Rogers celebrates -- he turns toward the A&M bench and yells "NOT IN OUR HOUSE!" Wallace is on the turf, with his hands on his helmet, frustrated that he just missed the game-clinching interception.
Rogers: "I saw how the defense was playing, so I knew if Kellen made the reads right he would come to me. When I saw the ball get tipped, I was kind of worried, honestly, but I kept fighting for the ball and made a great catch."
Mond: "When Kendrick had that touchdown on the goal line, that was definitely a great feeling with the crowd when I walked over to Coach Fisher, just trying to talk to him about a game plan, talking to him about a last play to get him in the end zone. That was one of the greater feelings of the game."
0:46 left, fourth quarter -- Texas A&M goes for two
Down 28-26, the Aggies need a two-point conversion to tie the game. Mond takes a shotgun snap, rolls right and A&M receivers flood the right side of the end zone. But Christian Wilkins -- one of the Tigers' four All-American defensive linemen, draws a holding flag from Keaton Sutherland, and Austin Bryant chases Mond to the A&M sideline.
Mond tries to launch it up to Jhamon Ausbon, who's covered by two Clemson defenders and -- who else? -- Wallace comes up with an interception.
Wallace: "I knew that we needed a stop, no matter what it was: an interception, a [pass breakup], a sack, a tackle for loss, something. I knew that my team was counting on me to make a play since I was the reason that they scored in the first place -- me dropping a pick and [Rogers] scooping it up and scoring it. So I felt like it was my duty to make that play."
Venables: "[We] anticipated the sprint out and did a good job. You're in the red zone, [so] you don't want to be behind the routes down there, you use the sideline and the end zone as an extra defender, so K'Von does a nice job of sliding underneath the route, and Austin did a great job anticipating the pocket moving and got pressure immediately."
Wallace: "The coverage we were in, I had to watch [Mond's] eyes. I know that he always wanted to roll out so he could throw it up, so I was prepared for that, and it just so happened that he threw it right to me."
Mond: "We were there in the end to finish, at least to tie the game up. I've got to make a better play and give our team a chance."
But wait, there's still an onside kick to go. After failing on the two-point try, the Aggies line up for an onside kick -- but Clemson recovers, to Swinney's relief. The Tigers are 2-0.
Swinney: "[After the two-point conversion] I looked at the clock, and I went, 'Crap, we've got an onside kick.' I was hoping there was like three seconds left. I'm like, 'Is the game not over? This game's never gonna end.' So now you're sitting there going, 'OK, you've got an onside kick. What else can happen?' That was probably the cleanest play of the entire night, was the onside kick. And of course, fittingly, I think [Hunter] Renfrow finished it off.
"But, oh, man, what a game."