Clemson Holds Off Wolfpack to Keep Bowl Hopes Alive
Charles Bennett, a defensive lineman, intercepted N.C. State quarterback Jay Davis on fourth-and-10 play from the Clemson 11-yard line on the game's final play.
CLEMSON - Having already lost one game in the final 30 seconds this year, a second such defeat not only would have devastated Clemson, it would have all but killed any hopes of qualifying for a bowl.
Saturday, Charles Bennett made sure that didn't happen.
Bennett, a defensive lineman, intercepted N.C. State quarterback Jay Davis on fourth-and-10 play from the Clemson 11-yard line on the game's final play, sealing an unlikely 26-20 victory for the Tigers over the Wolfpack. It was Clemson's (4-4, 3-3 ACC) third straight victory, second straight over an ACC opponent.
The win also breathes new life into the team's postseason hopes. The Tigers now need two victories in their final three games to qualify for a bowl.
"It says a lot about the players' character and not quitting," said Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden. "As I've said before, we talked that Friday night before the Utah State game - 1-4, (then) a 7-0 lead at halftime. There could have been a lot of fingers pointed (and) complaining, but the players didn't do it.
"Now we've won three games, back to back to back."
State started the ill-fated final drive at its own 23-yard line with 3:14 remaining.
Davis deftly moved his team downfield - converting a fourth-and-one from the Clemson 30 along the way - and reached the Tigers' 11-yard line with less than :30 to go. Three straight incompletions brought the Wolfpack face-to-face with a final, all-or-nothing play with :08 to go.
Davis avoided traffic in the pocket and threw toward the end zone, but Bennett - dropping back into coverage from his tackle position as corner Justin Miller blitzed from the outside - batted the ball up in the air at the four yard line before grabbing it and running it back up the N.C. State (4-4, 3-3) sideline toward midfield as time ran out.
As the final seconds ticked away, Clemson fans stormed the field to celebrate with Bennett and his teammates - a scene in stark contrast to the aftermath of the Georgia Tech postgame following that last second loss in week two.
"I just wanted to make a play," Bennett said. "There have been so many times this year where making a play would have made a difference. On the last play the coaches had me in the position to make the play. I just took that opportunity and did it."
Bennett's interception was the sixth turnover forced by the Tigers' defense, the most since forcing six against Missouri in 2000. By contrast, coming into the game Clemson had only forced six turnovers the entire season.
But for all the attention paid to the return of former defensive coordinator Reggie Herring and his aggressing, blitzing mentality, it was Clemson's defense which stole the spotlight.
Five of the six turnovers forced were interceptions, including another by a defensive lineman. Tackle Eric Coleman intercepted Davis (24-of-45, 255 yards, TD, 5 int.) in the first half and returned it 20 yards for a touchdown, which at the time gave Clemson a 10-3 lead.
Justin Miller had two interceptions, giving him 13 for his career, and Jamaal Fudge had one.
Mo Fountain recovered a Darrell Blackman fumble in the third quarter.
"That's our responsibility, to carry this team if the offense isn't clicking," Miller said afterwards. "We practice making big plays all year...sometimes it comes and goes. But you have to put yourself in position to make things happen."
The takeaway bonanza brought Clemson's season turnover ratio down to minus five. The Wolfpack's ratio, on the other hand, soared to minus 16.
"It's amazing we had a chance to win at the end even though we had (six) turnovers," said State head coach Chuck Amato. "We have taken every possible approach...We have to find a way to stop turning the ball over."
Meanwhile, the offense again was just good enough, though this week quarterback Charlie Whitehurst and Co. showed a little more signs of life. Whitehurst (14-of-33, 183 yards) led Clemson on five scoring drives - one touchdown and four Jad Dean field goals.
The scoring pass, a 24-yarder to Airese Currie, gave Clemson a 17-10 lead late early in the third quarter.
Dean then hit three consecutive field goals - a 47-yarder that made it 20-10 with 6:58 left in the third; a 36-yarder two minutes later to make it 23-10; and a big 42-yarder against the wind with 8:50 left in the game that put Clemson up by nine, 26-17.
Dean was a perfect 4-for-4 on the day - he made a 21-yard kick in the first quarter - and is 6-for-6 on the year since taking over the position from Stephen Furr before the Florida State game.
"He's doing a heck of a job," Whitehurst said of Dean. "I don't think people realize how big of a weapon he is for us. He's just awesome."
Sixteen of Clemson's points came off the turnovers. The Tigers had no points via turnover coming into the game.
State's touchdowns came on a five-yard pass from Davis to tailback Reggie Davis in the second quarter, and Reggie Davis' 10-yard run in the third that, at the time, cut Clemson's lead to 23-17.
For Clemson, Currie put together another fine afternoon. The senior caught seven passes for 108 yards and the touchdown.
"We used him in a bunch of different ways," Bowden said. "He played with a lot of courage today."
The Wolfpack outgained Clemson in total yardage, 381-267.
Score by Quarters 1 2 3 4 Score
----------------- -- -- -- -- -----
NC State............ 3 7 7 3 - 20 Record: (4-4,3-3)
Clemson Tigers...... 3 7 13 3 - 26 Record: (4-4,3-3)
State 3, CU 0
Scoring Drive: 5 plays, 10 yards in 1:47
Scoring Play: Deraney's 28-yard field goal at 12:57
Key Play: McClendon's 9-yard run to the CU 5-yard line.
Clemson 3, State 3
Scoring Drive: 9 plays, 76 yards in 3:06
Scoring Play: Dean's 21-yard field goal at 9:51
Key Play: Currie's 39-yard reception to the State 33-yard line.
Clemson 10, State 3
Scoring Play: Coleman's 20-yard interception return at 12:15
Clemson 10, State 10
Scoring Drive: 13 plays, 80 yards in 5:34.
Scoring Play: Davis' 5-yard reception at 6:41.
Key Play: Blackman's 20-yard run to the Clemson 13-yard line.
Clemson 17, State 10
Scoring Drive: 7 plays, 49 yards in 2:48.
Scoring Play: Whitehurst's 24-yard pass to Currie at 11:05.
Key Play: On third and nine, Whitehurst hits
Currie for 14 yards to the State 20 yard line.
Clemson 20, State 10
Scoring Drive: 7 plays, 13 yards in 1:54.
Scoring Play: Dean's 47-yard field goal at 6:58.
Key Play: Whitehurst's 12-yard pass to Harris,
setting up the field goal attempt.
Clemson 23, State 10
Scoring Drive: 4 plays, 6 yards in 1:18
Scoring Play: Dean's 36-yard field goal at 4:54.
Key Play: Scoring Play.
Clemson 23, State 17
Scoring Drive: 6 plays, 80 yards in 2:02.
Scoring Play: R. Davis' 10-yard run at 2:52.
Key Play: Davis' 35-yard pass to Dunlap to the
Clemson 33-yard line.
Clemson 26, State 17
Scoring Drive: 12 plays, 40 yards in 4:37.
Scoring Play: Dean's 42-yard field goal at 8:50
Key Play: Baham's 24-yard reception to the State
Clemson 26, State 20
Scoring Drive: 8 plays, 39 yards in 2:48
Scoring Play: Deraney's 44-yard field goal at 6:02.
Key Play: Clark's 16-yard reception to the Clemson 26-yard line.
FIRST DOWNS................... 24 17
RUSHES-YARDS (NET)............ 35-126 34-82
PASSING YDS (NET)............. 255 185
Passes Att-Comp-Int........... 45-24-5 34-15-0
TOTAL OFFENSE PLAYS-YARDS..... 80-381 68-267
Fumble Returns-Yards.......... 0-0 0-0
Punt Returns-Yards............ 2-2 3-37
Kickoff Returns-Yards......... 1-21 2-43
Interception Returns-Yards.... 0-0 5-84
Punts (Number-Avg)............ 3-44.7 5-37.0
Fumbles-Lost.................. 1-1 2-1
Penalties-Yards............... 10-62 8-73
Possession Time............... 31:00 29:00
Third-Down Conversions........ 7 of 15 8 of 17
Fourth-Down Conversions....... 1 of 2 0 of 0
Red-Zone Scores-Chances....... 3-4 3-3
Sacks By: Number-Yards........ 2-21 2-8
RUSHING: NC State-Blackman, D. 11-90;
McLendon, T.A. 12-31; Davis, R. 6-25; Washington, B.
2-minus 3; Davis, J. 4-minus 17.
Clemson Tigers-Merriweather, R 14-49; Coleman,
D 10-35; Miller, J 1-3; TEAM 1-minus 1; Whitehurst, C 8-minus 4.
PASSING: NC State-Davis, J. 24-45-5-255.
Clemson Tigers-Whitehurst, C 14-33-0-183; Miller, J
RECEIVING: NC State-Williams, T.J. 8-82;
Clark, B. 3-39; Hall, T. 3-30; Washington, R. 3-18;
Ritcher, J. 2-12; Dunlap, J. 1-35; Hicks, S. 1-18;
Barrett, L. 1-11; Davis, R. 1-5; Blackman, D.
1-5. Clemson Tigers-Currie, A 7-108; Baham, C 2-28;
Coleman, D 1-14; Harris, L 1-12; Grant, K 1-11;
Hall, B 1-8; Harrell, C 1-2; Whitehurst, C 1-2.
INTERCEPTIONS: NC State-None.
Clemson Tigers-Miller, J 2-0; Bennett, C 1-39;
Coleman, E 1-20; Fudge, J 1-25.
FUMBLES: NC State-Blackman, D. 1-1.
Clemson Tigers-Whitehurst, C 2-1.
Stadium: Memorial Stadium Attendance: 79500
Kickoff time: 12:02 PM End of Game: 3:30 PM
Total elapsed time: 3:28
Officials: Referee: Tom Zimorski;
Umpire: Tom Laverty; Linesman: Tyrone Davis;
Line judge: Allen Andrick;
Back judge: Tommy Pace; Field judge: Dave Meslow;
Side judge: Watts Key; Scorer: Larry Nash;
Temperature: 72 Wind: SW14mph
Weather: Mostly sunny
SACKS (UA-A): NC State-Hudson, M. 1-0;
Thomas, P. 1-0. Clemson Tigers-Hill, L 1-0; Coleman, E
0-1; Fountain, M 0-1.
TACKLES (UA-A): NC State-Graham, T. 6-2;
Hoyte, O. 6-1; Thomas, P. 3-3; Hudson, M. 5-0;
Edwards, D. 3-2; Maddox, A. 2-3; Tulloch, S. 2-3;
McCargo, J. 3-0; Reid, L. 3-0; Aughtry-Lindsay
0-3; Brooks, R. 2-0; Charles, M. 1-1; Davis, A.J. 1-0;
Williams, T.J. 1-0; Clark, B. 1-0; Pressley,
D. 1-0; Lee, W. 1-0; Davis, R. 1-0; Tyler, D. 0-1;
Williams, M. 0-1. Clemson Tigers-Hill, L 4-6;
Billie, T 5-4; Fudge, J 4-3; Hill, T 4-3; Waters,
A 2-4; Watkins, N 3-2; Miller, J 3-2; Pugh, T 2-2;
Fountain, M 2-2; Williamson, B 0-3; Coleman, E 0-3;
Tate, T 1-1; Bennett, C 1-1; Dunham, D 1-1;
Richardson, L 0-2; Groover, C 0-2; Adams, G 1-0;
Clark, D 1-0; Rigsby, G 1-0; Gilliam, S 0-1;
Jackson, S 0-1; Nelson, M 0-1; Gaddis, CJ 0-1;
McDuffie, C 0-1.