Justin Falcinelli knew the 2018 Clemson football team was truly special following their win over Syracuse in Week 5 of the season.
“Once we got through Syracuse, I knew we could do it,” the All-ACC center said. “We were starting to play, and we were starting to come together.”
That was a chaotic week for the Tigers. Head coach Dabo Swinney announced that previous Monday he was going to start freshman Trevor Lawrence over senior Kelly Bryant. That same day, when the rest of the team went to practice, Bryant cleaned out his locker and sent Swinney a “Dear John” like text message and said he was transferring.
In the game, the Tigers fell behind 13-7 in the second quarter and while diving for the sticks on a third-down play along the Syracuse sideline, Lawrence was knocked out of the game. In came Chase Brice, who entered the week as the third string quarterback.
With little playing experience, Brice engineered a fourth-quarter come back for the ages as Clemson rallied from 10-points down for a 27-23 victory. On the game-winning drive, Brice found Tee Higgins for a 20-yard gain on a fourth-and-six play near midfield.
On the next play, he kept the ball for a 17-yard run that moved the football inside the 15. Two plays later Travis Etienne scored the winning touchdown with 41 seconds to play.
“It was a tough week and really with all the adversity we had with the quarterback change, then Trevor getting injured and being down and all of that,” Falcinelli said. “I knew then that if we could get through all of that and come back and win, then there is still a way we can be pretty great.”
After the Syracuse game, the Tigers were better than great. They were unbelievable. Clemson beat its next 10 opponents by an average margin of 36.1 points, including a 28-point victory over Alabama in the national championship game.
“It was tough going through (Syracuse week),” Falcinelli said. “Every year we have challenges, but we are always able to overcome them, so it is just confidence in the preparation and knowing we are prepared, and we are capable because we have the talent and we have the coaching. We can do anything.”
The Tigers concluded what had been a hectic week with a Championship Parade and Celebration at Death Valley on Saturday.
“This one is a little more special. I had a bigger role in this one,” the senior said. “It was special. It was my last hurrah from Clemson, so it was great.
“What is going to stick with me is the guys we did it with. It is just the best group of guys in the world. All the memories I have with my teammates here. This has been the most fun I had on one team that I have ever been on. We have been focused, we have been intense along the way. It has just been an incredible year.”