No. 3 Clemson took down No. 2 Ohio State in dramatic fashion on Saturday with an estimated 21.2 million people watching.
According to ESPN Press Room, 21.2 million people watched Clemson football defeat Ohio State 29-23. The emotions of Clemson fans undoubtedly tilted throughout the night, so we got two young Tigers fans to share their game watching experience.
13 to zero. That was the score heading into the second quarter on Saturday night and the lowest point of an emotional journey for Tiger fans.
The defending national champion No. 3 Clemson Tigers were on the ropes, and the No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes were landing blows early and seemingly on their way to punching their ticket to New Orleans to face No. 1 LSU on Jan. 13th.
Simultaneously, opposing fans and college football fans, in general, were flooding social media with posts exclaiming “Clemson’s in trouble” and Tigers fans were wondering if the 28-game winning streak and a true title defense would be over by night’s end.
"“Being underestimated is one of the biggest competitive advantages you can have.”"
But in McAllen, TX, nine-year-old Perez Elementary student Ethan Shelby, an avid Clemson fan who we interviewed about a year ago, was confident in his team.
“I never thought Clemson would lose the game, because Clemson has always beat Ohio State in the college football playoffs and when they played against one another – that I do know,” he said. “I never doubt the Tigers, because they have the skills and the heart.”
Shelby, the son of a football coach, knew Clemson was undefeated (3-0) against the Buckeyes and that past history added to his already almost inseverable faith in them.
While Shelby relaxed comfortably on his Clemson pillow in front of the television, seventh grader Sovereign May of Little River, SC, wasn’t so relaxed.
May became a fan of college football and Clemson after walking the sidelines as a water girl for the North Myrtle Beach Middle School football team in 2018.
The early 16-0 deficit made May restless but consecutive Clemson scores to bring the halftime score to 16-14, lifted her spirits and placed her cozily on the living room recliner.
That would change to nervousness with the Buckeyes touchdown at the 11:49 mark of the fourth quarter and Clemson trailing 23-21.
But after Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence found running back Travis Etienne out of the backfield for a catch and run touchdown, that nervousness transformed into exuberance, and May made a run of her own.
“When Travis scored my family was sleeping and I jumped out of the recliner and ran back and forth in my living room,” May said describing her reaction to Etienne’s 34-yard score that gave Clemson a 29-23 lead with less than two minutes remaining in the instant classic. “It takes a lot for me to get teary eyed, but I was almost in tears. I was so happy.”
But the game wasn’t over yet. With 1:59 remaining, the Buckeyes drove quickly down the field and became a threat to score until safety Nolan Turner intercepted Buckeyes quarterback Justin Fields in the endzone to prevent a game-tying score.
The Tigers were led on the night by a gritty defense, the toughness of Fiesta Bowl MVP Lawrence, May’s favorite player, and the speed and power of Etienne, Shelby’s favorite Tiger. The defense held the prolific Ohio State offense to seven points in the second half, Lawrence had two passing touchdowns and a shifty momentum changing 67-yard touchdown run, and Etienne had three total touchdowns (1 rushing and 2 receiving).
What a night for Clemson football – a Fiesta Bowl trophy, a 14-0 record, a 29th consecutive victory and the dream of winning back-to-back national championships all escorting them back to Clemson, SC.
It was quite a night for the young Tiger fans too. May survived her emotional roller coaster of a night and took a few deep breaths before reclining like a champ. Conversely, Shelby dealt with a few “doubters” immediately after the game, before finding his orange and purple clad pillow. His mom, Shelby Shelby, (not a typo) talked about texts and calls Ethan received post game.
"We have a lot of friends that support Ethan’s love for Clemson. Very often we get calls or text from friends and family during the Clemson games, just to check in on him……..After the big win [on Saturday], a few people started telling him that there was no way they would be able to pull off a win against LSU. That no one will beat LSU, not even his Clemson Tigers. But his response was the same for all those doubters, ‘being underestimated is one of the biggest competitive advantages you can have!’"
Ethan’s response to the doubters spoke of his maturity, faith in the team and coach’s son mentality. His response also could have easily been echoed by his second favorite football coach Dabo Swinney, behind only his father Patrick, as Dabo fought for respect for Clemson this season.
Despite being doubted and underestimated, Dabo has the Tigers right where he thought they would be – headed to New Orleans on Jan. 13 with an opportunity to win another national title.
On that day, while the stadium is rocking and mixed with anguished and excited fans, Ethan will be in Clemson gear calmly watching in Texas, and May dressed adequately for possible sprints through her parent’s living room in South Carolina.
Dabo has always talked about extending the Clemson family and building the brand, and Ethan and May are prime examples of each. Ethan, a Texas native in the heart of Texas A&M football country and May, a relatively new Clemson fan, are All-In.