Sampson's INT Seals Another Wild Clemson-Ga. Tech Battle
Eric Sampson, the sophomore linebacker from Jacksonville, Fla., returned the game saving interception 35 yards.
CLEMSON - The scenario was beginning to look frighteningly familiar.
As Clemson's offense struggled to move the ball down the stretch Saturday
afternoon, the defense found itself spending more and more time on the field,
trying to slow Georgia Tech's offense. And as a 24-6 lead began to slowly
evaporate, visions of another Yellow Jacket miracle in Death Valley - a la
Kerry Watkins' game-winning, one-handed touchdown catch in the final seconds
in 2000 - began to emerge.
But just when it looked like the Yellow Jackets might pull that miracle, Eric
Sampson emerged from the quickly-developing pile of Death Valley rubble and
saved the day.
Sampson's interception of Georgia Tech quarterback A.J. Suggs at the Clemson
16-yard line ensured there would be no Tigers' collapse and preserved a 24-19
victory in the Atlantic Coast Conference opener for both teams. Sampson, the
sophomore linebacker from Jacksonville, Fla., returned the pick 35 yards
before finally being hauled down at midfield.
After a 15-yard penalty on Clemson for excessive celebration, quarterback
Willie Simmons ran off the final 1:12 by taking a knee twice.
"It was a cover four and I had to read three, read the quarterback," Sampson
said. "They ran a little skinny post and the quarterback threw it right to
me. (Defensive coordinator John) Lovett put me in the right place to make the
The win was Clemson's (2-1) second straight after the season-opening loss to
It came despite the Tigers' committing three turnovers in their final six
full possessions, including a bad shotgun snap from Jermyn Chester that
Georgia Tech (2-1) recovered to set up the final, futile drive.
Suggs (17-of-31, 201 yards) had moved the Yellow Jackets from their own 38 to
the Clemson 29 on back-to-back completions to Watkins (14 yards) and
Lekeldrick Bridges (19 yards). But trying the deep middle again, Suggs threw
behind his intended receiver and into the hands of Sampson, whose pick and
return iced the Tigers victory.
"Back there with Eric Meekins and Nick Eason, Bryant McNeal, Rodney Thomas
and Altroy Bodrick and those seniors, (the defense) did a great job," said
Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden. "The defensive staff really did a good job
and Eric Sampson there in the end really sewed it up."
Georgia Tech had pulled within striking distance with a pair of second-half
The first, a seven-yard pass to tight end John Paul Foschi, capped a 78-yard
drive and pulled the Yellow Jackets within 24-13 with 5:45 left in the third
quarter. The second score came with 3:43 left in the game on a Tony Hollings
But hoping for a two-point conversion that would have cut the margin to
three, Tech was turned away when Foschi's reception on a swing pass came up
"I was proud of the way our players played during the second half, especially
the defense," said Georgia Tech coach Chan Gailey. "We needed to play like
that the whole game, and we have to get things back on track offensively.
There were just too many big plays against us in all phases (of the game)."
Until bogging down in the third quarter, Clemson's offense appeared to be
continuing its pattern of slow, steady improvement on a week-to-week basis,
building an 18-point third quarter lead behind a mix of big plays, solid
drives, and even a little luck.
Wide receiver Derrick Hamilton totaled 256 all-purpose yards Saturday,
falling just short of the Clemson record set by Terrence Flagler (274 yards)
in 1986. Hamilton scored the game's first touchdown on an electrifying
77-yard run - on an inside handoff as he went in motion from right to left -
to give Clemson a 10-0 lead.
He set up the Tigers' score in the final minute of the first half by
returning a Dan Dyke punt 79 yards to the Georgia Tech five. Clemson scored
on a fourth-and-goal play from the two-yard line moments later, when Simmons
scrambled to his left and tossed a backhanded shovel pass that tight end
Bobby Williamson caught in traffic.
"We really got our offense cooking in the first half," Bowden said. "I think
we opened with an eight minute drive, and even if you don't get points it
shows that you're going to be able to control the ball. We were minus three
starters on offense, so I was real pleased we took it down there and were
able to take time off the clock."
Simmons finished the day 18-of-31 for 176 yards, two touchdowns and one
interception. His 44-yard bomb to Tony Elliott in the third quarter was
Clemson's only points of the second half. Yusef Kelly rushed for 89 yards on
Hollings, who had 297 yards in two games coming into Saturday despite having
just one carry in the second half, answered any questions about his
legitimacy by running for 147 yards (23 carries) and two touchdowns. One of
his scores was a 72-yard run in the first quarter.
Watkins continued in his role of Clemson-killer, catching seven passes for
Georgia Tech Clemson
TOTAL FIRST DOWNS 16 15
Passing 10 6
Rushing 6 9
Penalty 0 0
3rd-Down Efficiency 7-16 5-16
4th-Down Efficiency 0-0 2-2
TOTAL NET YARDS 303 390
Total plays 63 70
Average gain 4.8 5.6
NET YARDS RUSHING 129 206
Rushes 32 39
Average per rush 4.0 5.3
NET YARDS PASSING 174 184
Completion-attempted 16-31 18-31
Yards per pass 5.6 5.9
Sacked-yards lost 0-0 0-0
Had intercepted 1 1
PUNTS-AVERAGE 9-52.8 5-37.8
RETURN YARDAGE 12 132
Punts-yards 3-12 4-85
Kickoffs-yards 5-46 4-70
Interceptions-yards 1-0 1-34
PENALTIES-YARDS 8-107 8-86
FUMBLES-LOST 2-1 4-3
GEORGIA TECH CMP ATT YDS TD INT
A.J. Suggs 16 31 174 1 1
CLEMSON CMP ATT YDS TD INT
Willie Simmons 18 31 184 2 1
GEORGIA TECH ATT YDS TD
Tony Hollings 25 167 2
Jonathan Smith 1 -3 0
A.J. Suggs 6 -35 0
CLEMSON ATT YDS TD
Derrick Hamilton 5 100 1
Yusef Kelly 21 90 0
Willie Simmons 8 9 0
Tye Hill 5 7 0
GEORGIA TECH REC YDS TD
Kerry Watkins 7 115 0
J.P. Foschi 2 21 1
LeKeldrick Bridges 1 17 0
Tony Hollings 1 17 0
Gordon Clinkscale 4 4 0
Jonathan Smith 1 0 0
CLEMSON REC YDS TD
Tony Elliott 3 85 1
Derrick Hamilton 2 29 0
Bobby Williamson 2 17 1
Ben Hall 2 14 0
Jackie Robinson 1 12 0
Kevin Youngblood 4 10 0
Yusef Kelly 3 9 0
J.J. McKelvey 1 8 0
GEORGIA TECH PUNTS YDS LONG
Dan Dyke 9 475 143
CLEMSON PUNTS YDS LONG
Wynn Kopp 5 189 52
GEORGIA TECH RET YDS LONG
Gordon Clinkscale 1 15 15
J.P. Foschi 1 0 0
Brian Lee 1 6 6
Kerry Watkins 2 25 18
CLEMSON RET YDS LONG
Derrick Hamilton 2 42 25
Brian Mance 1 10 10
Jackie Robinson 1 18 18
GEORGIA TECH RET YDS LONG
Kelley Rhino 3 12 7
CLEMSON RET YDS LONG
Derrick Hamilton 4 85 79
GEORGIA TECH INT YDS
Kelley Rhino 1 0
CLEMSON INT YDS
Eric Sampson 1 34
Clemson 3, GT 0
Drive: 15 plays, 53 yards in 7:47.
Scoring Play: Aaron Hunt's 34-yard field goal at 7:13.
Key Play: Willie Simmons' 15-yard completion to Bobby Williamson to the GT 16
Clemson 10, GT 0
Drive: 1play, 77 yards, in :13.
Scoring Play: Hamilton's 77-yard run at 5:45.
Key Play: Scoring play.
Clemson 10, GT 6
Drive: 1 play, 72 yards in :21.
Scoring Play: Hollings' 72-yard run at 5:24 (kick failed).
Key Play: Scoring play.
Clemson 17, GT 6
Drive: 4 plays, 5 yards in :50.
Scoring Play: Simmons 2-yard pass to Williamson at :38.
Key Play: Hamilton 79-yard punt return to GT 5.
Clemson 24, GT 6
Drive: 6 plays, 66 yards in 2:29.
Scoring Play: Simmons' 44-yard pass to Elliott at 10:40.
Key Play: Simmons' 20-yard pass to Elliott on third-and-6 from own 38.
Clemson 24, GT 13
Drive: 11 plays, 78 yards in 5:45.
Scoring Play: Suggs' 7-yard pass to Foschi at 4:55.
Key Play: Suggs' 22-yard completion to Watkins on third-and-21 from the CU
Clemson 24, GT 19
Drive: 8 plays, 59 yards in 3:29.
Scoring Play: Hollings 1-yard run at 3:43 (2-pt. pass fails). Key Play: Suggs' 33-yard completion to Watkins on third-and-10 from the Tech