Tigers Edge Past Terps on Controversial Call
CLEMSON - In a season marred by poor play and bad breaks, something finally went right for Clemson Saturday.
A controversial pass interference call in the final moments set up Reggie Merriweather's 2-yard touchdown run, and the Tigers eked out a 10-7 victory over Maryland at Death Valley. It was Clemson's first victory over the Terrapins in four tries since Ralph Friedgen became Maryland's head coach.
The win also snaps Clemson's (3-4, 2-3 ACC) three-game conference losing streak.
"I was really pleased with the team not giving up, even though we played poorly offensively," said head coach Tommy Bowden. "Defensively you just can't say enough. That's the way they used to win games around here.
"I don't mind winning games 10-7, but I wish we were a little more productive on offense."
Clemson is now 5-21 in games in which it trailed at halftime since Bowden became head coach. Saturday's win ended a run of seven straight such defeats dating back to 2002.
The Tigers' winning drive was set up by a 22-yard punt return by Justin Miller, giving his team possession at its own 42-yard line with 2:50 to go.
Quarterback Charlie Whitehurst, who battled through another tough afternoon littered with sacks and knockdowns, then put together his best - and most important drive - of the season to date.
Just 10-of-26 before the final possession, Whitehurst completed four of his five passes for 44 total yards. Completions of nine yards to Kelvin Grant and 14 to Michael Collins, sandwiched around a 10-yard run by Merriweather, put Clemson at the Maryland 25.
After an incompletion, Whitehurst then found Airese Currie over the middle for 18 yards to the Terrapins' seven. Merriweather ran for no gain, then caught a three-yard pass from Whitehurst to set up third-and-four.
Whitehurst then lobbed a pass into the left corner of the end zone toward Grant, who got tied up with Maryland (3-4, 1-3) defender Gerrick McPhearson as the ball fell incomplete. But the official behind the play called McPhearson for interference, giving the Tigers first and goal at the Maryland two-yard line.
McPhearson and his teammates argued the call should have been on Grant for offensive interference. Television replays were inconclusive.
On the next play, Merriweather powered his way in for the winning touchdown with :23 left in the game.
Asked how he felt about the interference call, Friedgen hedged.
"I can't comment on that. You know I can't comment on that," he said.
Later, asked if he was angry after the game, Friedgen said, "I'm angry every week. I'm tired of losing. If we get two first downs there the game is over."
Cornerback Justin Miller intercepted Maryland quarterback Joel Statham's first pass of the following drive, allowing Clemson's offense to return to the field and run out the final 12 seconds.
Maryland called two timeouts to delay the inevitable, forcing Whitehurst to take a knee three times before the clock finally ran out.
"This is a big one for us," Whitehurst said. "We work on situations (trailing late) every day in practice. to drive down and get that game-winning touchdown gives us a lot of confidence."
The final drive ended a second half in which Clemson totaled just 89 yards. But the Tigers' defense held Maryland to just 82 yards and zero points in the half, giving Whitehurst and Co. chance after chance to win the game.
Finally, on the last opportunity, the offense came through.
"In the second half we didn't play very smart," Bowden said. "We had some penalties. Maryland has a good defense...you just can't overcome that. We have to play a lot smarter. Thank goodness our defense stepped it up a notch."
The Terrapins finished with 194 yards of total offense; they had totaled just 172 in the previous two games combined. Clemson finished with 206 yards of offense.
"Our defense stood up all day," said defensive tackle Cory Groover. "We kept battling and fighting...I think we're becoming a better defense each and every week."
Maryland's only touchdown came in the first half and was set up by a rare Clemson special teams mistake.
David Holloway blocked a punt by Clemson's Cole Chason midway through the first quarter and recovered it at the Tigers' 17. Six plays later Josh Allen scored from a yard out for a 7-0 lead.
Clemson answered with a field goal with :09 left in the first half to cut the lead to 7-3. The Tigers moved the ball 73 yards in 18 plays before bogging down and getting a 21-yard field goal from Jad Dean.
Maryland 7 0 0 0 - 7
Clemson 0 3 0 7 - 10
Maryland 7, Clemson 0
Scoring Drive: 6 plays, 17 yards in 2:14
Scoring Play: Josh Allen's 1-yard run at 7:12
Key Play: On third and four from the 11, Statham completes a 9-yard slant to Fenner.
Maryland 7, Clemson 3
Scoring Drive: 18 plays, 73 yards in 7:21
Scoring Play: Dean's 21-yard field goal at :09
Key Play: On fourth and one from the Maryland 12, Merriweather runs for three yards.
Clemson 10, Maryland 7
Scoring Drive: 8 plays, 58 yards in 2:27
Scoring Play: Merriweather's 2-yard run at :23
Key Play: On third and goal from the UM four, Maryland's Gerrick McPhearson is called for pass interference defending Kelvin Grant. Clemson gets the ball first and goal at the UM two-yard line.
First downs 13 16
Rushes-yards 37-83 40-36
Passing 111 170
Comp-Att-Int 14-31-2 14-31-0
Return Yards 59 65
Punts-Avg. 7-40.6 9-40.0
Fumbles-Lost 3-0 0-0
Penalties-Yards 6-47 4-55
Time of Possession 30:59 29:01
RUSHING-Maryland, Maldonado 11-39, Statham 11-27, Lattimore 4-11, Allen 10-8, Team 1-(minus 2). Clemson, Merriweather 17-60, Coleman 9-27, Currie 1-(minus 6), Team 3-(minus 8), Stuckey 1-(minus 15), Whitehurst 9-(minus 22).
PASSING-Maryland, Statham 14-31-2-111. Clemson, Whitehurst 14-31-0-170.
RECEIVING-Maryland, Parson 5-35, Fenner 4-35, Maldonado 1-14, Suter 1-13, Walker 1-7, Davis 1-4, Weatherly 1-3. Clemson, Currie 5-89, Grant 4-49, Collins 1-14, Stuckey 1-7, Coleman 1-4, Harris 1-4, Merriweather 1-3.