Demon Deacons Drive Past Tigers
Freshman James Davis was a bright spot for the Tigers with two rushing touchdowns.
CLEMSON - If there remained any question that Groves Stadium is Tommy Bowden's personal house of horrors, Saturday afternoon's crushing last minute defeat should remove all doubt.
Cory Randolph, back at quarterback for Wake Forest after a failed move to wide receiver, fired a six-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Marion with :33 remaining, rallying the Demon Deacons to a stunning 31-27 victory over visiting Clemson. A last-ditch comeback effort by the Tigers came up three yards short, dropping the Tigers to 2-3 over all, but more importantly 1-3 in the ACC.
Wake Forest improves to 2-3 (1-1).
The Deacons got a chance at a game-winning drive following what surely will be considered a controversial decision by Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden late in the fourth quarter.
Facing a fourth and seven at the Wake Forest 27, Bowden called for a fake field goal. Holder Cole Chason optioned the ball to kicker Jad Dean, who was hit and thrown for a seven-yard loss. Dean had hit both field goal attempts earlier in the game, connecting from 21 and 47 yards.
"I thought that we didn't need a field goal and that we needed to score a touchdown," Said Bowden. "There was a pretty good chance it would work, and we tried to make something happen to win the game. If we get a first down there, the game is over. I just wanted to win the game."
Randolph, who lost his job to sophomore Ben Mauck last spring and moved to wide receiver, never looked more comfortable at quarterback on the ensuing drive.
Taking over with 2:31 remaining, the senior over came an incomplete first pass with consecutive strikes over the middle to Demir Boldin for 11 and 18 yards, respectively. Moments later, facing a second and 13 from the Clemson 40, Randolph found backup fullback Damon McWhite in the left flat for a 17-yard gain.
A Randolph scramble for three yards and Chris Barclay's 14-yard run set the ball up at the Clemson six. And on the next play Randolph was able to zip a pass to Marion on quick out pattern for what proved to be the winning touchdown.
Clemson tried to rally after taking over at its own 20 with :33 remaining, Whitehurst first hitting Stuckey for a 30-yard gain to midfield, then completing back-to-back passes to tailback James Davis for a total of 20 yards to the Wake Forest 30-yard line.
With :08 left and still one timeout remaining, Whitehurst found Baham down the seam on the next play. Too far from the sideline to get out of bounds, Baham turned upfield and tried to score. But four black-shirted defenders wrestled him down at the three yard line as time expired.
"I was playing underneath coverage, so I trailed their number one receiver," said Wake Forest safety Patrick Ghee. "I saw Whitehurst throw the ball and the guy catches it and came my way. My first thought was to keep him in bounds and make the tackle. I didn't know it was the three-yard line."
For a long time it looked as if Clemson would escape Groves Stadium with an impressive comeback win.
Instead, the finish drummed up unpleasant memories of the Tigers' last trip here, a 45-17 loss in 2003 that, at the time, put Bowden's job in jeopardy. There are no such job worries this time around, but there are plenty of questions to be answered during the next 12 days.
"We cannot manufacture enough stops or turnovers on defense right now," said Bowden. "We've now played five teams down to the wire, three of them have won. We had more rushing yards than them, more passing yards, more first downs; if you look at that part then we had a productive day. We try and see the bright spots, but it's hard when you lose."
Clemson has a week off before playing at N.C. State on Thursday, Oct. 13.
Trailing 21-7 in the second quarter, the Tigers rallied with a pair of 64-yard scoring drives to knot things up 21-all at the half. Davis ran 14 for the first score, while Merriweather found paydirt from 11-yards away.
The Tigers then opened the second half with a pair drives which ended in Dean field goals, the first 21 yards and the second 47, to grab a 27-21 lead.
The 20 straight points was fueled by a Clemson defense which, especially in the third quarter, appeared ready to dominate the game.
But ultimately the Tigers had no answer for Randolph, who engineered a field goal drive early in the fourth quarter to pull the Demon Deacons within 27-24.
Randolph finished the game 20-of-25 for 222 yards and three scores - the other two a 74-yarder to Kenneth Moore and a 34-yard strike to Nate Morton.
Clemson's first score was a one-yard run by Davis in the first quarter.
Tigers' quarterback Charlie Whitehurst finished 28-of-42 for 304 yards and two interceptions. Both pickoffs were by Wake linebacker Jonathan Abbate, and both were tipped balls that went through the hands of Clemson receivers.
One of the interceptions and a later blocked punt led directly to Wake Forest touchdowns.