Tigers' backup saved the national championship season with heroic fourth-quarter performance
As top-ranked Clemson approaches its matchup with Syracuse on Saturday, thoughts of last year’s game remains in the back of some players’ minds, especially for backup quarterback Chase Brice.
Last year’s game against the Orange was Trevor Lawrence’s first career start, and it was also the same week former quarterback Kelly Bryant quit the team, walking out prior to practice the Monday before.
With Bryant gone, Brice moved up to second-team quarterback as the coaches rushed to make sure he was ready in case Lawrence went down with any kind of injury.
Then, the unthinkable happened. As Lawrence tried to get to the sideline and get out of bounds during a second-quarter play, he fell and was hit in the head by a Syracuse defender. It turned out Lawrence suffered a neck strain and did not return to the game.
“When he first went down, I thought, is he going to be okay? I was worried about him,” Brice said. “Once he walked off the field, I had to take off my penny (jersey) and my hat, and that’s when it got real. I just thought, get into halftime, and then get everything under control. Then we’ll see how he is doing, and if he is going to come back in.”
Clemson trailed 16-7 at the time and things were looking bleak for the Tigers.
“When he was ruled out, I rallied behind the o-line and the defense. They really comforted me and rallied behind me as well,” Brice said. “They said they had confidence in me and after that, I tried to trust the coaches and the play calling, and just do my job. So, hopefully, we would win. That was the goal.”
The goal was achieved thanks to Brice leading the Tigers on two fourth-quarter touchdown drives after they fell behind 23-13 early in the fourth quarter. On the game-winning 94-yard drive, which running back Travis Etienne capped with a 2-yard touchdown run with 41 seconds to play, Brice completed a fourth-and-six pass to Tee Higgins to keep the drive alive. The play covered 20 yards and on the next play, he kept the ball on a 17-yard run to the Syracuse 15, putting the Tigers in position to win the game.
“I think after the game as a whole, we came together as a team,” Brice said. “We sat behind Trevor, and he led us. From then on we took control of the course and let other teams have it.”
Clemson won its last 10 games by 20 or more points, including a 28-point win over Alabama in the College Football Playoff National Championship.
Knowing their recent history against the Orange, including a 27-24 loss at Syracuse in 2017, Brice and the Tigers know they have a tough task at the Dome this Saturday. However, Brice says he and Lawrence are up for the challenge.
“Traveling last year to other places, it didn’t really bother (Lawrence) or me,” the junior said. “I think we both agree, we like traveling on the road. Obviously, home games are great, but something about going on the road is just a challenge.
“It’s fun being in a hostile environment and making plays. I know he will be super excited, and we will both be prepared.”
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