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The Latest: Clemson takes 23-3 halftime lead over Notre Dame

December 29, 2018

The Latest on the College Football Playoff semifinals at the Cotton and Orange Bowls (all times EST):

5:55 p.m.

Clemson is halfway to the national championship game for the third time in four years.

Freshmen Trevor Lawrence and Justyn Ross hooked up for two long touchdown passes, and Tee Higgins made a nifty catch off a deflection in the end zone and the No. 2 Tigers are up 23-3 over No. 3 Notre Dame at halftime of the Cotton Bowl.

The winner of the College Football Playoff semifinal game will play for the national championship against No. 1 Alabama or No. 4 Oklahoma, who play later Saturday in the Orange Bowl.

Higgins made a one-handed grab off a pass deflected by a defender for a 19-yard score with 2 seconds left in the half.

Ross caught a 42-yard TD with 1:44 left in the first half, after an early 52-yard scoring catch from Lawrence earlier in the second quarter. Clemson went 80 yards on four plays in 46 seconds for its final score after a Notre Dame punt.

Lawrence is 19-of-26 passing for 264 yards with three TDs, increasing his season total to 27. Ross has five catches for 137 yards.

Notre Dame’s defense had allowed only two TD passes in its last six regular-season games.

Irish quarterback Ian Book is 11-of-20 passing for 107 yards, accounting for most of Notre Dame’s 141 total yards. Book also had a fumble that led to a Clemson field goal.

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5:05 p.m.

Clemson freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence’s 25th touchdown pass of the season has put the No. 2 Tigers back ahead of No. 3 Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl on Saturday.

Justyn Ross caught the pass near the 20, shed a Notre Dame defender and then stiff-armed through another to get into the end zone for a 52-yard touchdown that made it 9-3 with 12:50 left in the second quarter. The extra point attempt was blocked.

The true freshman quarterback made a nice throw that the well-defended Ross was able to grab.

Clemson is trying to reach the College Football Playoff championship game for the third time in four seasons

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4:45 p.m.

No. 3 Notre Dame quickly responded to tie Clemson in the Cotton Bowl at 3-3.

Justin Yoon kicked a 28-yard goal with 4:31 left in the first quarter. On the ensuing kickoff, Notre Dame nearly forced a fumble inside the Clemson 20-yard line but replay showed the ball was out of bounds — barely.

The Fighting Irish went 66 yards on 10 plays on the ensuing drive after No. 2 Clemson converted Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book’s fumble into Greg Huegel’s 40-yard field goal.

This is the first time two unbeaten teams have meet in the Cotton Bowl since Jan. 1, 1948. That game between SMU and Penn State ended in a 13-13 tie.

Of course, Saturday’s College Football Playoff semifinal can’t end in a tie.

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4:35 p.m.

No. 2 Clemson has taken a 3-0 lead over Notre Dame in Saturday’s Cotton Bowl on Greg Huegel’s 40-yard field goal with 8:35 left in the first quarter.

The field goal capped a nine-play, 31-yard drive set up after Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book fumbled.

Book was getting tackled when the ball came out. The ball wasn’t initially ruled a turnover, but after a replay review the ball was given to the Tigers.

— Schuyler Dixon, Arlington, Texas

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4:25 p.m.

Clark the eagle has finally landed at the Cotton Bowl.

The eagle that flew during the national anthem Saturday before the playoff semifinal between Notre Dame and Clemson never made it to his designated landing spot on the opposite end of AT&T Stadium.

After bypassing his landing platform inside the stadium with the closed retractable roof, Clark returned almost to his takeoff spot. He landed on the shoulder of a Notre Dame fan clad in a green shirt a couple of sections from where he took off.

Clark took off again and flew to the other end of the stadium before doing a U-turn and landing on the outstretched arm of another fan. After a few seconds there, handler Daniel Cone retrieved Clark and got his leash back on him.

The small platform on the field where Clark was supposed to land was disassembled without him having made the scheduled stop.

It was the biggest stadium in which Clark has flown. Two years ago, Challenger the eagle had an uneventful flight before the Cotton Bowl.

— Schuyler Dixon, Arlington, Texas

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3:50 p.m.

Clemson defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence, suspended by the NCAA for failing a test for performance-enhancing drugs, was on the field Saturday wearing an orange sweat shirt with the familiar tigers paw logo as his teammates warmed up for the Cotton Bowl against Notre Dame.

Lawrence tested positive for a banned substance, along with two teammates who are both reserves for the Tigers.

The school has said it plans to appeal the ruling in the hopes of getting the 340-pound Lawrence back if Clemson advances to the national championship game. The highly touted junior’s college career could be over as he would be eligible to declare for the 2019 NFL draft.

— Ralph Russo, Arlington, Texas

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3:25 p.m.

Outside, it’s dreary and overcast, with real-feel temperatures of near freezing.

Inside, under the bright lights of AT&T Stadium and with the retractable roof closed, conditions are perfect for the Cotton Bowl, the College Football Playoff semifinal between No. 2 Clemson and No. 3 Notre Dame.

It is an unseasonably cool day in North Texas, with a forecast high Saturday of 40, about 16 degrees below average.

The Cotton Bowl moved from its namesake outdoor stadium on the grounds of the State Fair of Texas to the then-new $1.3 billion home of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys nine years ago.

That move guaranteed no worries about game day weather and pretty much ensured the Cotton Bowl becoming part of the College Football Playoff rotation.

There is still a bowl played at Cotton Bowl Stadium, and on Wednesday a game between No. 23 Boise State and Boston College became what is believed to be the first bowl game called off because of weather. The SERVPRO First Responder Bowl was canceled because of the threat of severe weather after a delay of about 90 minutes. The game was stopped with BC leading 7-0 with 5:08 left in the first quarter.

—Stephen Hawkins, Arlington, Texas

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3:15 a.m.

Oklahoma and Notre Dame are standing in the way of Alabama-Clemson Part IV.

The College Football Playoff semifinals are Saturday, with the top-ranked Crimson Tide facing No. 4 Oklahoma at the Orange Bowl in South Florida and No. 2 Clemson playing No. 3 Notre Dame at the Cotton Bowl in North Texas.

The Tigers (13-0) and Fighting Irish (12-0) meet in the first game of the semifinal doubleheader. The Irish are making their first CFP appearance.

The nightcap will feature Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray of Oklahoma (12-1) against Heisman runner-up Tua Tagovailoa of Alabama (13-0) in a matchup of star quarterbacks.

The winners advance to the national championship game on Jan. 7 in Santa Clara, California. Alabama and Clemson have faced off in the last three playoffs, including splitting two title games.

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