by Chuck Culpepper

GLENDALE, Ariz. — An odd but dramatic Fiesta Bowl national semifinal went to Clemson on Saturday night, yet will keep on going, into a loud future with Trevor Lawrence’s reputation booming further and Buckeye nation fuming forever, given the litany of excruciations it suffered.

The 29-23 finish at State Farm Stadium provided Clemson a 29th straight win, pushed the Tigers (14-0) into a fourth national championship game in five years, opposite LSU this time, and came about because a statuesque Clemson quarterback and his chums took the ball with 3:07 left and a scary amount of terrain up ahead, then traveled those 94 yards with haste and aplomb.

It took them four plays. It took them 78 seconds. It ended with 1:49 left. It went boom, boom, boom and boom.

“It was just a real poise,” Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney said.

Lawrence threw 11 yards to the right to Justyn Ross. Lawrence backed briefly into the pocket and then roamed an open prairie to his right for 11 more. Lawrence threw deep down the middle to Amari Rodgers for 38 yards to the 34-yard line.

Then, for the kind of touchdown that decorates a story, the sophomore quarterback and defending national champion pretended to tuck in the ball to run, something he had done 16 times for 107 sorely needed yards — including a 67-yard touchdown stomp before halftime — then looked up and threw. It went a short way to monster running back Travis Etienne, who blasted the last 25 yards or so for another touchdown for a dynasty’s gathering collection of moments, while giving Etienne a team-leading 98 yards on three receptions.

“Whatever it takes to win,” Lawrence said on the field afterward.

Ohio State wound up as both great and sad and set to cringe for as long as memories allow. The Buckeyes led 16-0 early on and 23-21 after a masterful 84-yard drive from pilot Justin Fields, whose 23-yard touchdown pass to Chris Olave came on fourth-and-one and 11:46 from the end. They also killed off almost seven minutes from the 9:59 mark to the 3:07 mark on their next possession, before punting. They also moved 52 more yards through the gasping final two minutes to both the Clemson 23-yard line and the frayed nerve endings of 71,330.

On a second down with 43 seconds left, Fields threw down the middle to the end zone, with Olave zigzagging left in what Fields called a basic miscommunication. The ball flew toward nowhere until safety Nolan Turner ran across and intercepted it, Fields’s second interception of the night and just his third across 14 long games of late summer, fall and early winter.

He grabbed his helmet on both sides, perhaps a metaphor for the Buckeye-minded who will require strong stomachs to relive this nutty game in which their team won the total-yards category by 516-417. Ryan Day, Ohio State’s first-year coach, found it “tough to go into a locker room with such a great team who played their hearts out,” called himself “proud, sad and angry,” and called it “very hard to swallow right now.”

The closing interception joined a list of agonies and grievances sure to rev up many a conversation in Columbus and beyond through New Year’s and beyond. They included a roughing-the-punter foul early in the third quarter, which enabled Lawrence’s 53-yard, screen-pass touchdown to Etienne, which supplied Clemson’s first lead at 21-16. Other turns proved still harsher.

Thrice the Buckeyes got bad news from video reviews: on an apparent touchdown catch from star running back J.K. Dobbins in the second quarter that turned out incomplete, on a targeting call 4:47 before half-time that altered a 16-0 game, and finally, amid the third quarter, on an apparent fumble-recovery touchdown. On that last one, Lawrence pitched one out on a hapless third-and-19 to Ross, who clutched the pass between his hands but never pulled it to his gut because his back had the All-American cornerback Jeff Okudah draped upon it. Okudah plucked out the ball, which lay on the ground like a large piece of candy until Jordan Fuller took it and stormed 29 yards down the left sideline to the end zone.

The Ohio State semicircle around the stadium bounced madly until it groaned angrily, the latter after a review rendered the pass an incompletion.

By then, they had gotten to know the sinking feeling.

For a yawning spell at the outset, Ohio State provided the country’s latest critique of Clemson’s schedule. It made things look like Clemson hadn’t seen anything like it while looking as if it had seen things like Clemson. It would roll through the program with the 28-game win streak for 296 first-half yards, more than all but one of those previous 13 gained in entire games.

It would set loose Dobbins, the back with breathtaking amounts of will and skill who quickly electrified the stat sheet to reach 141 rushing yards on six carries. Sixty-eight of that came on a touchdown midway through the first quarter on which Dobbins blasted past end Xavier Thomas at the line, subjected safety K’Von Wallace to an unwanted 360 and outran much of the state of South Carolina. Another 64 came on a run up the right that ended eight yards from the end zone only because safety Tanner Muse barely tripped Dobbins from behind.

Still, the Buckeyes’ populous devotees had to wonder about an undercurrent beneath the dominance: three stalls for three field goals from three aching distances: 21, 23 and 33 yards. “The red-zone responses were huge and, at the end of the day, the difference in the game,” Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. The middle one came after Dobbins apparently caught a five-yard touchdown and then, after review, apparently did not.

Ohio State led 16-0 when many might have dreamed it 28-0.

Meanwhile, Clemson looked gummed-up and off-kilter, operating in spaces smaller and more crowded than accustomed. Its mighty receivers found sticky company. It kept tripping up on third-and-not-so-long.

On a third-and-four from the Ohio State 45-yard line, Lawrence had J.C. Chalk open beyond the marker but defensive end Tyreke Smith gamely batted down the ball. On a third-and-two from the Ohio State 45-yard line, Lawrence faked and dropped back and wound up amid the menacing inconvenience of defensive tackle Robert Landers and then defensive end Tyler Friday. On a third-and-two from the Clemson 33-yard line, linebacker Pete Werner crashed in to limit Travis Etienne to one yard.

But on third-and-5 from the Ohio State 45-yard line just 4:47 to halftime, the ground began shifting. Lawrence waited to throw, and cornerback Shaun Wade waited to blitz, and Wade made a searing line toward Lawrence, ramming into him and getting help from his mates as the giant quarterback teetered, dropped and stayed prone briefly.

It wrecked the drive and reintroduced the punter.

But as the witnesses tried to gauge Lawrence’s condition, the officials in the booth tried to assess the play. They ruled targeting against Wade, who looked gutted, said farewell to his mates and departed with his automatic disqualification. It resuscitated Clemson and rearranged the game. “This was a crown-of-the-helmet foul,” referee Ken Williamson said afterward. “So it did eliminate a lot of other factors. Initial contact was with the crown of the helmet. Then he wrapped up for the tackle. So at that point, targeting was properly called.”

“That targeting call was huge,” Lawrence said.

Soon, the Tigers got 15 yards on an interference penalty and the final eight when Etienne ventured right, untangled himself from safety Fuller and romped past Friday. The score stood 16-7 and looked drastically different from 16-0.

Ohio State stalled, and Lawrence backed up on a second-and-10, bolted through a gap created by all-American guard John Simpson, put a swell juke on safety Josh Proctor, reached the left sideline and scored from 67 yards out. That made it 16-14, and that made things hairy.

Live updates and highlights, by Jacob Bogage in Washington, can be found below.

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