Orange Bowl

Redemption for Clemson punter Andy Teasdall

Clemson punter Andy Teasdall, left, and Christian Wilkins hooked up on a 31-yard completion on a fake punt.
Clemson punter Andy Teasdall, left, and Christian Wilkins hooked up on a 31-yard completion on a fake punt. sdegnan@miamiherald.com

No one could have seen this coming.

Certainly not Clemson fans, who watched National Coach of the Year Dabo Swinney rip into punter Andy Teasdall on Dec. 5 at the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship Game after a boneheaded decision by Teasdall to run instead of punt on fourth down led to a North Carolina touchdown.

And judging by a second-quarter play Thursday at the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Capital One Orange Bowl, not the Oklahoma Sooners, who were caught unaware by Teasdall’s 31-yard, fourth-down completion to 6-4, 315-pound freshman defensive tackle Christian Wilkins.

On fourth-and-4 from the Oklahoma 44, Teasdall lofted the pretty spiral and Wilkins — his back to the goal line — looked in the pass at the 25-yard line, spun around and gracefully toed inside the sideline, resembling a ballet dancer more than a substantially padded lineman.

Two plays later, quarterback Deshaun Watson rushed 5 yards for the touchdown to culminate the seven-play, 96-yard drive and put Clemson ahead 10-7 with 12:45 left in the first half.

Except for a one-point deficit late in the second quarter, Clemson, en route to a 37-17 victory, led the rest of the way.

For Wilkins, a first-team freshman All-American from Springfield, Massachusetts, the completion was the first catch of his college career after registering 72 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and two sacks in 13 games.

For Teasdall, a 5-11, 190-pound redshirt junior from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, the completion was redemption at its finest after the Tigers’ last game for the ACC title.

In that game, which Clemson (14-0) won to get into the semifinal, Teasdall was supposed to punt on fourth-and-15 from his own 30. Instead, he inexplicably took off running, getting tackled 11 yards short of the first down.

A furious Swinney lit into Teasdall that day for several minutes as a national TV audience watched, returning a few times to yell some more.

On Thursday, Swinney said with a smile that he “actually called the fake.’’

Added the coach: “We shocked them, didn’t we? Ain’t nobody covering that big old guy. … Tea did an awesome job. He sold it perfectly.”

Wilkins, who had three tackles Thursday, said it was a nice change for him to go on the offensive.

“I played a little tight end back in my day in high school,’’ Wilkins said. “It was good to get the ball in my hands again and have a little fun out there. We’ve been working on that play since the beginning of the season. We practice it every week. I just couldn’t wait for the opportunity to come.”

Did Wilkins think that play would ever be called again after the ACC blunder?

“I’m sure people were probably wondering, ‘What is Andy doing again?’ ’’ Wilkins said, laughing. “I’m sure he redeemed himself with that great throw.

“I saw two defenders in front of me and tried to bust right through them. I tight-roped the sideline but wish I could have stayed in bounds. It would have been nice to score a touchdown.”

Teasdall said he never thought he’d get another shot at a fake “this soon.’’

“But Coach Swinney called it, and it was there,’’ the punter said. “Honestly, I thought I overthrew him because it took him so long to catch it. But God’s plan and God’s path.

“It’s amazing.”

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