ACC Champs! Tigers are 13-0 and College Football Playoff bound

by - Senior Writer -
Artavis Scott points to the sky after a touchdown
Artavis Scott points to the sky after a touchdown

CHARLOTTE, NC – Clemson is one game away from playing for a national championship but the pizza party comes first.

Deshaun Watson put on another spectacular show, Shaq Lawson was dominant when it counted and Wayne Gallman ran over and around North Carolina as Clemson beat North Carolina 45-37 in the ACC Championship Game in Bank of America Stadium.

It’s Clemson first ACC Championship since 2011, and the Tigers will now be in the four team College Football Playoff, which will be announced on Sunday.

The Tigers took the opening drive and marched into North Carolina territory, but Greg Huegel missed a 47-yard field goal and the Tigers came away without points. It was his first miss in ACC play after starting 17-for-17.

Two personal foul penalties against the Tigers aided UNC’s first drive and the Heels hit a 30-yard field goal to take a 3-0 lead with 8:45 to play in the first quarter.

It didn’t take the Tigers long to answer, and they did it on the arm of Watson and the legs of Wayne Gallman. Watson converted two third downs on the drive with crisp passes and then hit Artavis Scott on a 40-yarder that put Clemson deep in UNC territory. Two plays later, Watson hit a crossing Gallman who took at 16 yards for the touchdown and Clemson led 7-3.

The teams traded punts, but North Carolina took over at the Clemson 47 and scored in just one play. The Tigers blitzed safety T.J. Green, who missed UNC quarterback Marquise Williams in the backfield. Williams found running back T.J. Logan all alone on the left sideline and he took it in for the score and a 9-7 lead after the Heels missed the two-point conversion.

The Heels forced a Clemson punt and Ryan Switzer returned it 29 yards to set up North Carolina at the Clemson 40, but a Shaq Lawson sack of Williams forced a Heel punt that landed at the Clemson four. Twelve plays and 96 yards later, the Tigers were back in front.

Watson had a 33-yard run on the drive, completed a fourth down toss to Deon Cain to keep the drive alive and scored easily on a nine-yard run to complete the second-longest drive in ACC Championship Game history. At that point, Clemson led 14-9 10:35 to play in the second quarter.

Clemson kept moving the ball but penalties kept hurting, and the Tigers next drive was stopped after three consecutive false start penalties. On 4th-and-15 and with Clemson deep in its own territory, punter Andy Teasdall elected to run for the first down but came up 10 yards short and UNC once again had fantastic field position at the Clemson 30. Three plays later Williams hit Switzer on a three-yard scoring pass and UNC led 16-14 with 3:52 to play in the half.

Clemson had one last chance to score before the half, taking over at its own 32-yard line with 1:56 remaining in the half. Late in the drive, Watson completed a 16-yard pass to Gallman that got the Tigers to the UNC one with 24 seconds to play, but instead of spiking the ball the Tigers lined up and tried to run Watson over the left side. The play was pushed back, and Clemson called its last timeout with just six seconds left on the clock.

The Tigers declined the field goal, however, and Watson rolled left and hit a wide-open Jordan Leggett in the end zone for the score with just two seconds to play. The Tigers ended a mistake-filled first half with a 21-16 lead after rolling up 309 yards of total offense, with Watson accounting for 290 total yards and three scores.

The Heels took the opening kickoff of the second half and drove down to the Clemson 16, but Cordrea Tankersley intercepted Williams at the three to thwart the Heel drive. It was the fifth interception of the season in Bank of America Stadium for Williams, and the fifth interception on the season by Tankersley.

The Tigers then took it the length of the field – again – driving 97 yards in 13 plays and taking over five minutes off the clock. The drive featured a pass that turned into a lateral and two big third down conversions that led to a three-yard Gallman score. The Tigers led 28-16 midway through the third quarter.

The Tigers forced a three-and-out by the Heels, who went into Clemson’s playbook and elected to try a fake punt deep in their own territory. Like Clemson’s woeful attempt, it failed and Clemson took over at the UNC 36-yard line. It took exactly two plays for Clemson to score, with Watson hitting Scott in the endzone from 35 yards out for the 35-16 lead with 4:58 to play in the third quarter. It was Watson’s 40th touchdown of the season.

Clemson forced another punt, but a tipped pass turned into an interception that turned into a North Carolina score when Williams scored from a yard out. With 1:39 to play in the third quarter, Clemson held a 35-23 lead.

Clemson answered with an 11-play drive that covered 80 yards, but it was a drive that saw Watson leave the game with an apparent knee or leg injury late in the third quarter. He returned to start the fourth quarter and showed no lingering effects as he scored on a two-yard run to make it 42-23 early in the fourth quarter.

North Carolina didn’t go away, however, and North Carolina covered 74 yards on a five-play drive that ended with a two-yard run by Elijah Hood, and Clemson led 42-30 with 9:54 to play.

The Heels forced a Clemson punt after Scott dropped what would have a been a third down conversion, and North Carolina promptly marched into Clemson territory. Facing a first down at the Clemson 36, Williams dropped back to pass but Lawson caught him from behind and forced the fumble. It was recovered by Austin Bryant at the Clemson 46 with just over seven minutes to play.

Gallman then went to work and Huegel hit a 27-yard field goal to account for the final Clemson points.

UNC drove down the field, however, and Williams hit Switzer on a 17-yard scoring pass that made it 45-37 with just over a minute to play.

UNC attended the onside kick but it was recovered by Clemson.

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