Tallahassee, Fla. — No. 1 Florida State seemed destined to lose with its Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Jameis Winston standing on the sideline, suspended and relegated to cheerleader.
Backup-turned-starter Sean Maguire had just thrown an interception that gave No. 22 Clemson to ball in FSU territory with 2:14 left in the fourth. Doak Campbell Stadium was silent as the defending national champions were staring at their first loss since the 2012 season.
A fumble by Clemson and a questionable overtime decision by Tigers coach Dabo Swinney helped the Seminoles avert the upset and come away with a 23-17 overtime victory on Saturday night.
Karlos Williams bounced around the outside for a 12-yard touchdown to win it for Florida State, which has won a school-record 19 straight games.
“We challenged our guys to find out who we are,” coach Jimbo Fisher said. “We’re not where we want to be, but we do know who we are.”
Winston was suspended for the game against Clemson (1-2, 0-1 ACC) after making “offensive and vulgar” comments earlier this week on campus. Interim President Garnett S. Stokes and athletic director Stan Wilcox announced the decision to extend the half-game benching to a full game late Friday night. There had been criticism that the original punishment for Winston’s latest embarrassing off-field incident was too light.
Wilcox declined to comment on the Winston suspension Saturday. Winston was not made available after the loss, but Fisher said he would be the ‘Noles quarterback again on Monday.
Maguire had never started a collegiate game and had only thrown 26 passes in his career. Now he was facing a conference rival in a game that has sent the winner to the ACC championship each of the last five years.
Maguire had an up-and-down night but Clemson had enough missed opportunities to let Florida State (3-0, 1-0) escape.
The last Clemson misstep in crucial spot came in OT.
Swinney declined to attempt a 33-yard field goal on the first possession and Adam Choice was stuffed for no gain on fourth-and-1. Two plays later, Williams went practically untouched into the end zone.
“Fourth and a foot. That’s on me,” Swinney said. “We didn’t come here to play patsy. We missed a couple of kicks and, obviously, that had something to do with it.
“Some crazy things happen in football and you have to go through it.”
Clemson kicker Ammon Lakip had missed two short field goals earlier in the game.
Maguire was regularly pressured by a loaded Clemson defensive line and completed 21 of 39 passes for 305 yards with two interceptions and a 74-yard touchdown to Rashad Greene to tie it at 17 with 6:04 left in the fourth. Winston was one of the first guys on the sideline to greet Greene after the receiver got free deep.
“We didn’t change any game plans,” said Nick O’Leary, who had six catches for 78 yards. “We did what we had to do.”
Greene finished with a game high 135 yards and a touchdown on nine receptions.
The two teams went into overtime after a fourth quarter of mishmash, game-changing plays on both sides. Clemson freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson threw a beautiful 39-yard pass in between two defenders, caught by a diving Mike Williams to set up a 2-yard touchdown run by the quarterback.
Maguire’s late pick gave Clemson the ball in FSU territory, but C.J. Davidson was stripped by Eddie Goldman and the ‘Noles recovered at 1:36 inside the Florida State 20, and then played for OT.
“(Winston) told me he’s proud of me,” Williams said. “He’s a great leader. He did something you really don’t’ see in a lot of starting quarterbacks, which is rally behind the backup.”
Clemson dominated the first half on both sides of the ball. The Tigers outgained the Seminoles 249-84. Florida State was held to minus-22 rushing yards, including negative 21 yards on three sacks.
Clemson took a 10-3 lead in to halftime which easily could have been 17-3. The Tigers drove to the Florida State 6 on their second possession and starting quarterback Cole Stoudt threw a pass in the dirt to Jordan Leggett, who was wide open in the flat and would have walked into the end zone. Lakip then missed a 23-yard field goal wide left.
Roberto Aguayo hit 50-yard field goal midway through the first quarter to give FSU a 3-0 lead, but that was the offensive highlight of the first 30 minutes.
Lakip knocked in a 30-yard field goal eight seconds into the second quarter and Clemson took the lead on a D.J. Howard 1-yard touchdown run with 5:56 left in the half. That became the first time Florida State trailed in a regular season game in 655 minutes and 53 seconds.
Watson, maybe the ACC’s next great quarterback, threw for 266 yards and ran for 30.