Clemson, S.C. – It was 70 degrees at kickoff which set the mood for an afternoon of exciting college football. It was Senior night in Clemson and the Tigers finished their home schedule off in style.
Junior running back Will Shipley rushed for 126 yards and Clemson’s defense terrorized North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye all day as the Tigers upset No. 20/22 North Carolina, 31-20. Clemson improved to 7-4 overall and 4-4 in the ACC, while the Tar Heels fell to 8-3 overall and 4-3 in the ACC.
The TarHeels jumped out to a 7-0 lead and was poised to take a two-touchdown lead when cornerback Nate Wiggins stripped UNC running back Omarion Hampton at the goal line for a touchback. Wiggins ran nearly 70 yards in chasing down Hampton in a brilliant effort. The Tigers then took it in for a score on their next drive.
Clemson recorded four sacks, five tackles for a loss, two forced fumbles, 10 pass breakups and held North Carolina to 4-of-14 mark on third downs and 2-of-5 on fourth down attempts. Jeremiah Trotter Jr. continued his top-level play, finishing with 11 tackles, including 1.5 for loss, a sack, two quarterback hurries and broke up a pass.
The Tigers held Maye to 16-of-36 passing for 209 yards and one touchdown, the lowest completion percentage of his college career.
The Tigers’ offense totaled 466 yards on 89 plays, its second straight game with totaling more than 400 yards including 200 both rushing and passing. Clemson’s offensive line helped pave the way for 247 rushing yards and did not allow a sack. Quarterback Cade Klubnik was 21-for-32 for 219 yards ran for 44 yards and a touchdown with three seconds to play in the first half.
Klubnik gave Clemson momentum when he took the ball 22-yards with his legs, but an unsuccessful fourth-and-one attempt ended its second drive at the 46-yard line. UNC capitalized on the good field position and opened the scoring with a 33-yard touchdown pass to J.J. Jones with 4:31 left to play in the first quarter.
On UNC’s next possession, Wiggins chased down Omarion Hampton after 63-yards and punched the ball out of Hampton’s hands just before he crossed the goal line, preventing a touchdown and giving Clemson the ball back as it was ruled a touchback.
With 10:10 left in the first half, Clemson got on the board and tied the game 7-7 off a three-yard touchdown pass to Jake Briningstool, capping a 14-play, 80-yard drive.
Jeremiah Trotter Jr. tackled Hampton to stop the Tar Heels from converting on 4th-and-2. Clemson’s defense produced another quick stop, giving Klubnik and company the ball back with 3:34 left in the first half. After driving the ball 62 yards, Shipley fumbled the ball at the five-yard line.
A sack from T.J. Parker paired with a sack from Trotter produced 13 total yards lost and gave Clemson another opportunity to score before the end of the first half.
Klubnik hit Troy Stellato over the middle for an 18-yard gain that put Clemson just outside the red zone. With eight seconds left, Klubnik escaped the pocket, ran the ball three yards and extended himself over the goal line to give Clemson a 14-7 lead heading into halftime.
In the second half, Clemson’s defense picked up right where it left off as Khalil Barnes sacked Maye for a two-yard loss on fourth-and-six. On the first play of Clemson’s second possession, Klubnik found Adam Randall for a 31-yard gain. Mafah later finished the job and extended Clemson’s lead to 21-7 with a three-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-one.
UNC responded with a quick 55-yard touchdown run from Hampton to make the score 21-14 with 6:20 left to play in the third quarter. On Clemson’s next drive, Shipley ran 33 yards to the end zone, making the score 28-14 with 3:01 left in the third quarter.
After yet another defensive stop, Klubnik completed a 36-yard pass to Shipley that put Clemson on the nine-yard line. Clemson came away from that drive with three points as Jonathan Weitz kicked a 21-yard field goal to make the score 31-14 with 10:28 left to play.
On UNC’s ensuing drive, Hampton ran for a three-yard rushing touchdown with 7:03 left in the game. Andrew Mukuba then broke up Maye’s pass on their two-point conversion attempt, leaving the score at 31-20.
Following several scoreless drives between Clemson and UNC, Wiggins came up with a toe tapping sideline interception to give Clemson the ball back on the 25-yard line with 2:37 left to play. Clemson then ran the clock out to win the game, 31-20.
Clemson will renew its rivalry with South Carolina next week when the teams meet for the 120th time in the “State Championship” series history on Saturday, Nov. 25. Kickoff in Columbia, S.C.