The Thrill of the Fight; A Tumultuous Week Ends with a Roar


The week of September 23 through September 29 will forever be remembered as one of the more tumultuous and emotionally taxing weeks in the Dabo Swinney era at Clemson.

It started with the announcement that the the freshman prodigy, Trevor Lawrence, would be the starter for the game against Syracuse in favor of the incumbent senior Kelly Bryant on Monday morning.

In Dabo's weekly press conference on Tuesday, he announced that he had given Kelly the night off from practice to gather himself and get over the emotion of the moment.

"It's a difficult thing man. It's a tough day. But it's just where we are.....It was emotional. It was tough.....There's not a guy that's more committed to this program than Kelly Bryant."

On Tuesday evening, it was released that Bryant had missed Tuesday's practice as well but did attend team meetings before that. Then early Wednesday morning, that loyalty to Clemson would be shook as it was announced by Manie Robinson of the Greenville News that Bryant had opted to transfer out of Clemson.

The release of Bryant's intentions to transfer sent the media and Clemson fanbase into a frenzy. At one point during the day, Kelly Bryant was the number three trending topic on Twitter. It had become a popular national story throughout the day and was fueled by multiple opinions on if he made the right decision or not.

National and local media were split on their opinions of the situation as well as the fans. Some thought that the emotional comments made by Bryant in Robinson's story were in turn a "slap to the face" of the Clemson coaching staff. Some thought the exact opposite.

That Wednesday felt like an eternity and by the end of the day when the media met with Dabo for the last time until Saturday, you could tell the emotion of the situation had already run it's course with the Tigers head football coach.

"You know, we gotta move on. Like I said earlier today, I wish Kelly all the best. Great young man and he made a decision he thinks is best for him and all you can do is support him in that. Even though I don't necessarily agree with it, that's his decision."

"We gotta move forward. We're definitely not a better team without him....I'll answer one or two questions but after that, I'm not gonna take anymore on guys that aren't here."

Of course he still received some questioning from national media sources that aren't as privy to the situation but of course that is to be expected with a story this big.

As the week went on and we moved closer to gameday, there was still much consternation throughout the fanbase. Worries of what could happen if Trevor got hurt and who would play quarterback if that happened and does this distract the team so much that they lose to Syracuse and possibly end their chance at making the College Football Playoff for the fourth straight year.

Then Friday morning brought with it more unsettling news. Larry Williams of 'Tiger Illustrated' released via Twitter that Mark Fields was not expected to play on Saturday due to suspension - thus somewhat depleting an already short amount of depth in the Tigers' secondary. The Clemson Insider also reported that morning that Cornell Powell was also suspended for the Syracuse game.

Some could only wonder if this was all a sign of things to come and that Saturday would be the start of a downward cycle leading to a disappointing end of an otherwise promising season for Clemson.

On top of all that, the Tigers were getting ready for the only team that beat them in the regular season last year in the Syracuse Orange. It was Friday the 13th in Ocotober in Syracuse, NY. It was a game in which Clemson got outplayed and lost their starting quarterback, Kelly Bryant, early in the game due to injury. In the end, it was a game they lost 27-24 to a team that would not win another game after that.

Finally Saturday had come. It was gameday with a kickoff set for noon. It was great weather in Clemson, SC and the sounds of a cadence count, Tiger Rag and cheering filled the air. The noise of the week seemed a distant memory for most at this point.

As the Tigers ran down the hill, the cheers and screams were ear-piercing. The Clemson Family looked past their differing views and disagreements that persisted throughout the week to come together in one accord to cheer their team on to victory.

The game did not start off well with the first offensive possession ending in a fumbled exchange between Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne. The Clemson defense held steady as they held Syracuse to just two field goals on their first two drives.

The Tigers gained a 7-6 advantage late in the first quarter and forced a fumble by the Orange on their next drive. They couldn't convert it into points though as Greg Huegel missed a 47-yard attempt. Syracuse went on to score their first touchdown of the day on a six play, 70-yard drive to go up 13-7.

Then with five minutes left in the second quarter, Clemson's worst fear became a reality as Trevor Lawrence took a hit on the visitor sideline that left him on the ground for a couple minutes. He was walked off the field by medical personnel and would not return to the game as he was placed under concussion protocol.

Trevor Lawrence helped off field after taking a hard hit on Syracuse sideline (Photo by Austin Silvey)

Once again, Kelly Bryant was becoming a popular topic on social media with multiple fans and members of the media voicing their opinions on his decision to leave the team midseason.

In the span of just six days, Chase Brice went from being the third quarterback on the depth chart to QB1 for a Tiger team with National Championship aspirations that was trailing 16-7 at halftime.

The first two offensive drives of the second half for Clemson ended in a punt and an interception. The next two led to field goals; the second one coming with 2:13 left in the third quarter.

As time ran out in the third quarter, Syracuse punted the ball but got it right back as Amari Rodgers muffed the catch giving the Orange the ball at Clemson's ten yard line. Four plays later Syracuse would punch it in and take a 23-13 lead with 12:58 left in the game.

The crowd was quiet. Worry was setting in and the weight of the week was a very real presence in Death Valley. It wouldn't be but six plays later that the stadium went into an uproar as Chase Brice and Travis Etienne led the team 75 yards down the field to cut the Orange lead to 23-20 off a 26-yard touchdown run by Etienne.

The Clemson defense would force Syracuse to punt on their next two drives and with 6:00 left in the game, the Clemson offense would get the ball back at their own six yard line with the game seemingly on the line.

The Tigers ran the ball seven straight times and got to the Syracuse 47-yard line but were in a 4th-and-1 situation. They took a timeout and when they got back into formation, Gage Cervenka was called for a false start, backing the offense up into what now was a 4th-and-6 with just 2:50 left in the game....

With just 41 seconds left in the game, Travis Etienne capped off a 94-yard touchdown drive to give them a 27-23 lead.

Syracuse would get the ball back with one more chance to try and win the game. After a personal foul put the Orange back on their own 13-yard line, the next play would send Death Valley into a deafening roar as freshman phenom Xavier Thomas laid the wood on Eric Dungey.

Syracuse would get three more plays off but it wouldn't be enough. As the clock struck all zeros, the boisterous Clemson crowd rushed the field, as is tradition for every home game, in a wave of unbridled enthusiasm.

The sheer joy of the fans, players and coaches told the story of what this win meant to the team - beyond it's hopes of another appearance in the College Football Playoff.

"A lot of heart. A lot of fight. It's been a heck of a week. But you saw the heart of our team today," head coach Dabo Swinney said in the postgame interview with ESPN's Holly Rowe at midfield.

"That's the heart of a champion. You saw the eye of the Tiger today."

Indeed the emotion of the week could have been the distraction that led to a demoralizing loss but instead the Tigers found a 'thrill in the fight' on their way to a potentially season-defining win.

In Swinney's postgame press conference he stated, "Challenges within the week. Challenges within the game. The game was kind of a reflection of the week. But at the end of the day it's all about how you respond. I've never been more proud of a team in my whole life.....This team took a big step forward."

A tumultuous week, full of emotion and consternation, that ended with a thunderous roar and rush of a crowd. No doubt this will be remembered forever in Clemson lore, whether for the right or wrong reasons.

To win this game, it took more than talent and coaching. It took more than the cheers of a crowd, more than loud music, and even more than Joey Batson yelling at everybody at the start of the fourth quarter saying that, "They don't put championship rings on smooth hands, you gotta go earn it!"

It took the heart of a champion finding a 'thrill in the fight.'

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