Tech uses late TD to overcome Clemson, 21-17


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Tigers defense played well giving up only two touchdowns on the day.
Tigers defense played well giving up only two touchdowns on the day.

Facemasks will keep the players from kissing Howard's Rock like Dabo Swinney did before he ran down The Hill Saturday.

Don't worry, though. It appears the team has bought into Swinney's leadership. Clemson nearly pulled off an upset of Georgia Tech Saturday before falling on a late touchdown, 21-17.

Swinney implemented sweeping changes this week, his first as interim head coach. There were enough changes that it wouldn't have been a surprise for the players' heads to be swimming when gametime came around, especially with Tech coming in with an option offense.

Instead, Clemson was able to overcome some early mistakes and force Tech to come from behind for the win.

"I am not disappointed in these men today," said Swinney. "I'm proud. These guys are not losers. What they did in the past three and a half days was great. They played with passion and fight today, and this is just the start of a unified Clemson team."

Tech scored on an interception return in the first quarter when a Tyler Grisham pass was intercepted by Dominique Reese. Grisham, a wide receiver, had taken a pitch from quarterback Willy Korn, but threw an ill-advised pass when he was nearly tackled. The pass was returned 34 yards for a touchdown.

Korn was intercepted on Clemson's next drive and three drives later Clemson running back J Harper fumbled. Clemson's offense didn't produce any points until a Mark Buckholtz fieldgoal from 40 yards out with 4:49 left in the first half.

On its next drive Tech converted on a third-and-16 with a 31-yard run by Jonathan Dwyer and later scored on a 5-yard run by Josh Nesbitt to give Tech a 14-3 at the half.

Clemson scored on its first two drives of the second half to take a 17-14 lead. Both were passes from Cullen Harper to Aaron Kelly -- one for 32 yards and the other for 31 yards. Harper came into the game when Korn injured his shoulder in the first half.

"Cullen played with a lot of heart today," said Swinney. "He has a fractured shoulder, and came out and made some great plays."

Clemson, however, gained just one more first down the rest of the game.

Tech was able to win the game on a 10- play, 60-yard drive that included a 23-yard pass from Nesbitt to Demaryius Thomas and then a 24-yard pass for a touchdown to Thomas with 5:22 left.

Thomas, who allowed a touchdown pass go through his hands on the previous drive, didn't drop the pass this time.

"The kids have shown some toughness and character on the road," said Tech coach Paul Johnson. "It makes you proud as a coach. They fight back and never hang their heads. They keep playing."

Clemson had one more chance, but a holding call brought back a long pass to Ford, effectively stopping the drive.

"We made adjustments from the first half," said Swinney. "We executed better in the second half. This is just the start of a seven-week plan to lay the foundation and rebuild this program that allows the guys to have passion for the game and the team they play for."

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