CLEMSON - Clemson football fans had endured four consecutive losses on
nationally-televised night games in 2002, including a pair of blowout losses
at home to N.C. State and Maryland.
Yet they returned to Death Valley in droves Saturday night, mostly driven by
the specter of playing the hated South Carolina Gamecocks for the 100th time,
but partly, perhaps, because they're masochists.
Whatever the reason, their faithfulness was rewarded with a 27-20 victory
It happened because Clemson's offense was able to rally from a seven-point
deficit early in the fourth quarter. It happened because the offensive line,
beaten up and maligned all season, put together it's best 6:25 of the season
down the stretch, paving the way for the Tigers' rushing attack to run out
It happened, according to Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden, because the fans
provided his team with yet another electric atmosphere.
And for once, the Tigers took advantage of the excitement.
"I really appreciate the fans and their involvement in the game," he said.
"It's been a frustrating year, but the way they've responded here of late with the noise factor kept us up and kept the sidelines up. I'm just really
appreciative of the environment they created.
"It made the 100th game very, very special."
After allowing the Gamecocks to hit two uncharacteristic big plays in the
passing game, which led directly to USC taking a 20-13 lead into the final
period, the Tigers mounted their most impressive comeback of the season.
It began with an unlikely rushing touchdown by redshirt freshman quarterback
Charlie Whitehurst, who spun away from a blitzing Corey Jenkins and tip-toed
down the left sideline for an 11-yard game-tying score.
"I thought I was going to be sacked," Whitehurst said. "I think (Jenkins) was
coming on a blitz, so I just decided to spin away from him. Then I didn't
think I would make it all the way, but I guess I did."
The comeback was completed when Bernard Rambert got the corner on an option
from two-yards away for a 27-20 lead and, after stopping USC on a fake field
goal attempt, running out the final 6:25 to seal the victory.
In the midst of the celebration, Clemson defensive lineman Bryant McNeal took
a moment to - in his eyes - offer a little payback.
"The best part of the win was sending those boys home for Christmas," he
said. "They came out talking a bunch of trash about last year's game and how
they were going to do the same thing again. But we showed up ready to play,
and it feels good to go out with a win at home."