Tigers Right At Home In Orange Bowl...Again

by - Correspondent -
Clemson quarterback Charlie Whitehurst, right, celebrates with Lionel Richardson following the Tigers' 24-17 overtime victory in Miami on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2004. (Travis Bell/Sideline Carolina)

MIAMI - Add another tombstone to the collection.

Reggie Merriweather's 1-yard scoring run in overtime - his third touchdown run of the second half - lifted Clemson to a stunning 24-17 victory over No. 10 Miami in the Orange Bowl Saturday night.

"We just didn't quit," Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden said. "We shut them down in the second half completely. ... It goes down to kids not quitting and playing hard."

It was the Tigers' first game in the storied venue since winning the 1981 National Championship. And while this victory doesn't approach that magnitude, it sends a message that the struggles from earlier this season appear to be gone for good.

Not that Saturday was easy. The Tigers had to overcome a 17-3 halftime deficit and withstand three missed field goal attempts by sophomore Jad Dean.

But now, with four straight victories under its belt, it's safe to say Clemson (5-4, 4-3 ACC) is a good football team.

And, in keeping with tradition, the Tigers will be able to place a new granite tombstone at the entrance of the Jervey practice facility, something done whenever the team beats a ranked opponent on the road.

Clemson's winning score was set up by a pass interference call on the Hurricanes on a pass intended for Kelvin Grant in the end zone on the first possession of overtime. The call gave the Tigers possession at the 10 and, after a Charlie Whitehurst-to-Airese Currie pass to the one yard line, Merriweather crashed over the right side on third down for the score and the 24-17 lead.

Miami tried to rally, finding itself with first and goal from the 10. A first down run by Tyrone Moss gained five yards, but quarterback Brock Berlin threw three consecutive incompletions trying to get his team a tying touchdown.

Instead, Clemson celebrated loud and long after the fourth down throw sailed wide of the intended receiver. The Miami bench erupted looking for a flag for interference on the final play on Clemson corner Tye Hill, but there was no penalty called.

Bowden joked after the game, "I couldn't find Coach Coker after the game. I thought he saw the flag and I didn't. I kept running anyway. I was going to pick it (the flag) up."

The Tigers started the road back in the third quarter when Merriweather (21 carries, 117 yards) scored on a 27-yard run. He then tied the game at 17-17 on a 1-yard run early in the fourth quarter.

“He has been a spark for us running the football, “said Clemson offensive coordinator Mike O'Cain. “He runs very, very hard. He breaks tackles. That’s what you got to have.”

That touchdown was set up by a beautiful fake field goal, Dean taking an over-the-shoulder toss from holder Cole Chason and running inside the five yard line. Miami was called for a flagrant facemask penalty on the tackle of Dean, moving the ball to the one and setting up Merriweather's score.

Clemson's offense appears to be waking up. The Tigers out gained Miami 374-353, including an efficient 20-of-36, 254-yard performance from Whitehurst.

"I think it was probably the first time all year that we have played as a whole team," said O'Cain. "We had a lot of guys step up and make plays. Charlie (Whitehurst) played well. We played well up front and that's what happened. You got to do that to beat a good football team particularly on the road."

But it was the Tiger defense which made it all possible, shutting out the Hurricanes (6-2, 3-2) in the second half and controlling the line of scrimmage in the process. Miami gained just 108 yards in the second half and overtime, compared to 216 for Clemson.

It looked for all the world like Miami was going to make short work of the Tigers, scoring on its first two possessions to leap ahead 10-0.

The game's opening drive saw the Hurricanes march 69 yards in just five plays, with Frank Gore pounding out the last 23 for a touchdown. By the time John Peattie kicked a 35-yard field goal with 6:20 remaining in the period, Miami appeared to be off and running.

"I told the team they were going to start fast," said Bowden. "They were mad. They had lost the last game and we were playing at their home. We were going to have to take their best shot."

But Clemson's defense got it together and shut out the Hurricanes until the final drive of the half. Meanwhile, Jad Dean's 47-yard field goal late in the first quarter cut the lead to 10-3.

Gore's 14-yard touchdown with :30 left in the half gave Miami a 17-3 lead at the break.

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