One of the most overlooked plays in the Clemson Tigers 44-16 victory over the Alabama Crimson Tide in the College Football Playoff National Championship may have been on a kick that did not result in points.
In fact, the kick came when the Tigers were giving the ball back to the Crimson Tide.
After the Tigers went three-and-out on their opening drive, gaining only 3 yards, the Tigers were forced to send former Calhoun Academy standout Will Spiers onto the field, where he unleashed the biggest punt on his career—a 51-yard bomb that flipped the field.
“I was just trying to put a good kick on it and it took off,” Spiers said. “I wasn’t nervous. I was just focused on getting the ball off because I knew they would probably be coming after it.”
And come after the punt is exactly what the Crimson Tide did.
The Crimson Tide brought five men to try to block the punt, however the Tigers “shield” held up and allowed Spiers to uncork only his ninth punt of 50-plus yards this season.
That punt was fielded by Jaylen Waddle and returned only 4 yards to the Crimson Tide 21-yard line.
“It was probably the biggest punt of his career,” special teams coach Danny Pearman said. “I mean, to step up on that stage and kick the ball the way he did—it flipped the field and put us in a position to get that first score and the momentum. It was huge.”
That first score came three plays later, when cornerback A.J. Terrell intercepted the pass from Crimson Tide quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and returned the pass 44 yards for the first score of the game.
“That play was huge because it gave us the confidence and the momentum to know that it would be our night,” Terrell said. “It was a great call by Coach (Venables) V to put me in the position to make the play… But yeah, the punt set up everything because they probably thought they were going to get the ball in better position than they did. So, huge props to Will for that.”
Spiers did not have his best season kicking the ball, entering the game with only eight punts of 50 yards or more this season, compared to 12 punts of 50 or more yards in 2017. He also had 17 punts downed inside the 20-yard line, compared to 25 in 2017.
But even though, by his own admission, this season was disappointing—he just kept going to work.
“I think that Will would tell you himself that this season he has not kicked the ball as well as he could have,” his father Bill said. “But he just keeps grinding to get better. He understands that he has the ability to go out there and do it, but for him, he just keeps going out there and trying to do what the coaches ask him to do to the best of his ability.”
But like the Phoenix rises from the ashes, so did Spiers when his team needed him the most he performed.
And that performance, that one kick, may have been the biggest play of the Tigers’ national championship.
“I don’t know about that,” Spiers said. “There were so many big plays, as a whole, by the entire team. I was just out there trying to do my part. I’m glad that it worked out the way it did.”