Tigers Get First Win in a Close Game in Three Years

by - Correspondent -
Dantzler finished the day with 103 yards rushing and 220 yards passing.

CLEMSON -- You usually pass any rite of passage with your eyes closed and teeth clenched.

Tommy Bowden didn't watch Clemson's final defensive play against N.C. State. He said he couldn't see the other side of the field, which is where Charles Hafley knocked away Phillip Rivers' pass on fourth down and saved the game for Clemson.

Bowden is detail oriented enough to have known Clemson's record in close games over the past three seasons, so it's likely that it was no accident that he wasn't watching.

Clemson had not won a game decided by a touchdown or less in over three years. A 19-17 win over N.C. State in the second game of the 1997 season was the last time Clemson won a nail-biter.

The last three years have not done much for Clemson's confidence -- a total of 13 games lost by a touchdown or less. Saturday's win was a start at rebuilding the confidence.

"To get where you want to go, you have to have games like this - a close game with a quality opponent," said Bowden.

N.C. State's final drive had the look of Marshall's final drive in the first game last season - Bowden's first game as Clemson's coach. In that game Marshall drove 76 yards in 11 plays to take the lead with 3:18 left.

Tommy Bowden Press Conference Keith Adams on the play of the defense. Jovon Bush on getting pressure on NCSU QB Chad Carson on NCSU QB Phillip Rivers Woody Dantzler on finally winning a close game Reggie Herring on the game saving fourth down play Rod Gardner on his 10 catches Will Merritt on moving up in the rankings Travis Zachery on breaking the Clemson TD record

N.C. State started on its own 20 yard line with 6:35 left in the game and reached the Clemson 18. With just over three minutes left, N.C. State faced fourth-and-3.

"I really didn't want it to be the way it was," said defensive lineman Terry Jolly. "But I'm glad we got a fourth quarter game."

N.C. State called two timeouts - timeouts they could have used if Clemson held but its offense couldn't run out the clock.

"We through they weren't going to switch some things," said Hafley. "Our coaches were telling us to stay in our zone and stop anything leaking out."

Rivers looked to the right side of the end zone where Hafley was running with tight end Willie Wright down the right sideline. Hafley wasn't supposed to have ended up covering Wright in Clemson's zone.

"It was a team effort," said Hafley. "If I saw someone leaking out, I had to pick them up."

Wright, who has three inches on Hafley, tried to jump over Halfey to catch the ball. Hafley got enough of the ball to knock it away.

"He was a quick tight end," said Hafley. "He had been running crisp routes. I did see the ball. I adjusted to both the man and the ball and just made the play."

Clemson's offense was able to run out the clock with two first down and N.C. State able to only take one timeout.

"I think this will really help the players from a mental standpoint," said Bowden. "Next time we're in that environment our comfort level will be better."

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