By Will Vandervort
ATLANTA — Money. That’s what Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd thinks about when he describes kicker Chandler Catanzaro, and for good reason. Boyd said he never doubted Catanzaro’s ability Monday when the junior kicker lined up for a 37-yard field goal with two seconds to play in the 2012 Chick-fil-A Bowl.
“When (LSU) called the timeout to ice him, it meant nothing. I wanted to go up in the stands and celebrate already because I knew he was going to kick it through those uprights,” Boyd said.
And that’s exactly what Catanzaro did. The Greenville, S.C. native calmly drilled the 37-yard field goal through the uprights as time expired, giving 13th-ranked Clemson a 25-24 victory over No. 7 LSU.
“I just love that guy,” Boyd said. “He is a warrior. He is one of the strongest people I know, and he just comes through in the clutch.”
Boyd came through in the clutch, too. The Chick-fil-A Bowl’s MVP led the Tigers (11-2) on a 10-play, 60-yard drive in the final 1:39, and it was not easy.
After being sacked on third down, Clemson faced a fourth down-and-16 from its own 14-yard line. It appeared LSU had Clemson right where it wanted them. But, as it turned out, Boyd had them.
Clemson ran a switch play with two seams, with the receivers crossing. When Boyd walked up to the line, he saw the coverage and noticed someone had the inside guy. Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins then got past his guy and Boyd delivered a perfect strike for 26 yards and a first down.
“Nuk kind of squirted by one high and I didn’t really know he was going to get on top of him like that so I kind of released a little bit earlier, but again, being the kind of receiver he is, he always finds the ball in the air,” Boyd said. “It was just a ridiculous play. I could not really see it because some of these guys are 6-5 and 6-6 so just hearing the roars of the Clemson crowd was a great feeling and a great sound.”
After the first down catch by Hopkins, Boyd found his favorite target for seven yards and then Hopkins drew a pass interference penalty from LSU safety Eric Reid that moved the football to the LSU 42. On second-and-seven from the 39, Boyd found Hopkins along the right side line for a 13-yard gain to the 26 and then he hit Humphries on a slant that got the ball to the 16.
Two plays later, after Boyd positioned the football in the middle of the field on a keeper, Catanzaro was true with the fourth game-winning kick in Clemson history.
“I knew right went it left my foot that it was good,” Catanzaro said. “I want to say I didn’t even see it hit the net. I just took off like I did against Wake Forest, except this time I fell which was good. Everybody dog piled me, which was pretty cool.”
What made it even cooler was the fact Clemson rallied from an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter to win the game. Trailing 24-13, Boyd, who completed 36 of 50 passes for 346 yards, led the Tigers on a 13-play, 63-yard drive that took 5:26 off the clock. Catanzaro capped the drive with a 26-yard field to pull Clemson within eight points, 24-16 with 9:46 to play.
After the Clemson defense, which held LSU to 219 total yards, including 99 rushing, stopped LSU on three plays, Boyd again engineered a scoring drive, this time ending with a 12-yard touchdown pass to Hopkins. It marked the second time the two teamed up for a score in the evening.
Following a failed two-point conversion try, the Clemson defense stepped up big again by forcing another three-and-out, giving the football to Clemson at its own 20 with 1:39 to play and with all three timeouts. Playing against one of the best defenses in the country, Boyd found Hopkins for the 26-yard gain a few moments later and he knew then they were about to make history.
“When we crossed the 40, I knew we were good to go,” Boyd said. “We can’t throw a pick, just got out there drive the ball and go win the game.”
And that’s what they did.