Photo courtesy of Pittsburgh athletics
For Clemson, the 2016 season was one to remember. The Tigers would go on to win their first national championship in 35 years.
They however, did not go unblemished. Their only loss came on this day five years ago. Pittsburgh kicker Chris Blewitt connected on a long field goal with seconds remaining to propel the Panthers to a 43-42 victory.
Setting the Stage
Clemson was 9-0 and ranked third in the AP Poll and second in the College Football Playoff rankings as it arrived at Memorial Stadium on Nov. 12, 2016. The Tigers however, had been tested. Five of their nine wins had come by seven points or less.
Pittsburgh had lost four of seven games and was just 5-4 coming in. The Panthers were riding a 2-game losing streak, but weren’t to be taken lightly.
Blewitt Wins It
On a day where the teams combined for nearly 1,100 yards and 85 points, no one ever led by more than eight. Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson passed for 580 yards and three touchdowns, but three interceptions kept Pitt in the game.
Clemson led 42-34 through three quarters and appeared to be on the verge of putting the game away midway through the fourth quarter. With 2nd-and-goal on the Pittsburgh 3-yard-line, the Tigers seemed in control.
Momentum turned when Watson’s pass to the end zone was intercepted by Pitt’s Saleem Brightwell and returned 70 yards. Three plays later, James Conner’s 20-yard touchdown cut the lead to two. After the failed 2-point conversion however, Clemson retained a 42-40 lead with 5:17 remaining.
Still, it looked as though the Tigers would survive. From the Pittsburgh 35-yard-line, Clemson had two downs to pick up one yard to put the game away. Twice, running back Wayne Gallman was stuffed.
With less than a minute to play, the Panthers took over needing only a field goal to win.
It took quarterback Nathan Peterman, who passed for 305 yards and five touchdowns, just three plays to put Pitt into field goal range. After a 9-yard run, Peterman completed consecutive passes to Scott Orndoff totaling 25 yards. After a pair of incompletions, Blewitt came onto the field to try to win it for Pitt.
Blewitt had missed an extra point earlier, which was a reason why the Panthers trailed. On the game’s deciding snap however, Blewitt’s 48-yard attempt was true with six seconds remaining.
For Pittsburgh, the victory would begin a 3-game winning streak to close the regular season. The Panthers appeared in the polls for the first time, but finished 8-5 and unranked after falling to Northwestern in the Pinstripe Bowl, 31-24.
Clemson managed to circle the wagons to win five straight games, including a 35-31 thriller over Alabama in Tampa for the national championship. The Tigers finished 14-1 for the second straight season. Their lone loss came on this day five years ago.