TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Down by two points with less than six minutes to play in the fourth quarter at No. 14 Florida State on Saturday night, third-ranked Clemson faced a fourth-and-7 from the Seminoles’ 29-yard line — and a critical decision.
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney had two options, one of which was to go for it on fourth-and-manageable in hopes of a conversion and ensuing touchdown. The other was to send out his young kicker for a long-distance field goal on the road in a raucous environment.
Swinney placed his faith in placekicker Greg Huegel, and the sophomore rewarded the decision.
Huegel hit a go-ahead, 46-yard field goal that handed Clemson a one-point lead with 5:25 remaining in its eventual 37-34 win at Florida State.
The kick provided a lift to the Tigers, giving them a late lead after the Seminoles had taken their first lead of the game following a pair of touchdown runs by running back Dalvin Cook in the third quarter.
“Him not second-guessing (the decision) or anything is a great feeling,” Huegel said of Swinney.
“That’s definitely the loudest that I’ve kicked in, I’ll say that,” he added. “It’s a great feeling. I felt it off the foot, and I was like oh, that’s absolutely good.”
Huegel’s effective right leg was essential in the game’s outcome.
The native of Blythewood, S.C., went 3-for-3 on field goal attempts of 23, 34 and 46 yards in Clemson’s three-point win.
And though Florida State responded to Huegel’s last field goal in the fourth quarter with Cook’s fourth rushing touchdown, the successful kick kept Clemson within one score in the final minutes.
Had Huegel missed the field goal and Florida State still scored, Florida State would have taken a two-score lead on its extra point. But because of Huegel’s field goal, the Seminoles only went up 34-29 after Cook’s score, which led them to go for two in an attempt to take a seven-point lead.
The two-point conversion attempt was unsuccessful, and Clemson got the ball back with 3:23 remaining before Deshaun Watson drove the Tigers down the field for their game-winning drive capped by a 34-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jordan Leggett.
“I know it was huge for the team at the time, but in that situation, you can’t really think about all that,” Huegel said. “You just have to go back to the fundamentals and trust the process.”
Huegel is 11-for-13 on field-goal attempts this season (84.6 percent), including 3-of-4 from 40-plus yards.
Huegel’s 46-yarder on Saturday nearly matched his career long of 47.
The former walk-on and second-team All-American by Sports Illustrated in 2015 said a key word helped him stay calm in the pressure-packed situation.
“Andy (Teasdall) and I, whenever we’re warming up, we have key words that we remind each other of,” Huegel said. “Just so when we’re in that moment, we’re not like OK, I have to make this, I have to make this and telling myself that over and over again.
“Today, all I told him to tell me was ‘hips through’. Hips through the target. I knew that if I focused on that, it would be a good outcome.”
Huegel has made a number of big kicks early in his career. But Saturday’s clutch kick might be the biggest of them all thus far.
“It’s something I’ll remember forever,” Huegel said. “I’ll say that.”