The game seemed like it was in the bag. Despite throwing two interceptions in the first half, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson had settled in and was having a record-breaking day.
The All-American set ACC and Clemson records for passing yards in a game. Then, with the Tigers clinging to an eight-point lead more than halfway through the fourth quarter, Watson had his team on the doorstep ready to put the game out of reach with a little more than five minutes to play.
But instead of putting the game away, Watson put it in Jeopardy, and it eventually cost No. 2 Clemson in a 43-42 loss to Pitt on Saturday in Death Valley.
On second-and-goal from the Pittsburgh three-yard line, he rolled to his right, where tight end Jordan Leggett was bracketed by three defenders in the end zone. Instead of throwing the ball away, he tried to fit the football into a small window, where Saleem Brightwell intercepted the pass and returned it 70 yards to the Clemson 30-yard line.
A few plays later, Pitt running back James Conner rumbled 20 yards for a touchdown and all of sudden Pitt was back in the game.
“He came across the middle. The guy made a play,” Watson said.
“They made a play and went down and scored. They capitalized on it,” he continued. “That’s all that matters. They did their part and we did not do ours.”
However, Clemson (9-1, 6-1 ACC) still had a chance to ice the game. Watson led Clemson back down the field where he connected to Artavis Scott, Hunter Renfrow and Mike Williams. But with third down-and-one at the Pitt 35, the Tigers failed to get that one yard on two straight plays with 58 seconds to play.
“Fourth-and-one … we need one yard. We have to get one yard. Third-and-one … third-and-one and fourth-and-one we need one yard and we did not get it. So we had an opportunity to win the game right there and we did not get it and they did. They made the play,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said.
Pitt took over on downs, and subsequently went down and won the game on Chris Blewitt’s 48-yard field goal with six seconds left.
“It’s a game of matchups, and we did not win our matchups,” Watson said.
Clemson was winning them early on, especially Watson who threw a Clemson-record 70 passes, while completing a record 52 passes for an ACC record 580 yards and three touchdowns.
“It’s all good, but at the end of the day my main focus is trying to get the W. I just wanted to win,” Watson said. “I could have went 0-for-30 with zero passing yards and if get the W, that’s all that matters.
“We made a lot of plays and did a lot of great things, but at the end of the day, we made a couple of mistakes that kind of kept them in the game. Give credit to Pittsburgh. They came down here and earned it after a tough loss last week down at Miami. They came down here and did not shy away from the challenge. You have to give them credit. They came in and out played us and made more plays at the end of the game.”
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