The No. 10 Clemson Tigers (11-2, 9-0 ACC) defeated No. 24 UNC (9-4, 6-3 ACC) by a score of 39-10 in the ACC Championship. This is Clemson’s fifth straight win over UNC and seventh ACC Crown in eight years.
North Carolina got on the board first thanks to a quarterback keeper from redshirt first-year Drake Maye. Graduate tight end Kamari Morales and redshirt first-year Kobe Paysour were particularly active targets on the first drive, with Morales picking up 33 yards and Paysour almost completing a 38-yard pass that was caught just barely out of bounds.
Clemson tied the game at 7-7 roughly seven minutes later after a 1-yard reception by senior tight end Davis Allen. At quarterback for Clemson, Cade Klubnik threw five passes for fifty yards on that drive, including a momentum-shifting 22-yard pass to first-year wideout Antonio Williams that brought the Tigers within the red zone.
Soon after tying the game at 7-7, Clemson’s Ruke Orhorhoro regained the ball on a fumble on a Maye handoff. Just two plays and 40 seconds later, the Tigers had another touchdown thanks to a 19-yard pass from sophomore running back Phil Mafah to Klubnik and a four-yard Mafah rush into the end zone to make the score 14-7 at the end of the first quarter.
After the Tigers added another touchdown to extend their lead to 21-7, UNC began to claw back. Driving down the field, Maye tried to rush up the middle on third down at the Clemson 6-yard line. After Maye was tackled for a loss of two yards by Clemson sophomore linebacker Jeremiah Trotter Jr., UNC sophomore Noah Burnette kicked a 25-yard field goal to bring the score to 21-10.
With just over a minute left in the second quarter, Clemson began to march down the field. After an ineligible receiver penalty froze the Tigers at midfield, graduate student B.T. Potter kicked a 52-yard field goal to close out the half, 24-10. This is the longest field goal in ACC Championship history, and ties Potter’s career-long.
In the third quarter, the Tigers padded their score with a 15-0 run to add on to their 14-point halftime lead.
The scoring run started with a pick-six by sophomore cornerback Nate Wiggins. The 98-yard run — the longest pick-six in ACC title history — was followed by a two-point conversion rush by graduate wide receiver Drew Swinney. Shortely thereafter, Clemson added another touchdown after a Will Shipley rush up the middle. That drive was complete with a Klubnik pass to junior wide receiver Brannon Spector, who ran for over 30 yards following the catch to move Clemson into the red zone.
UNC's mishaps didn't cease in the final quarter, as a Maye had his pass to sophomore wide receiver J.J. Jones intercepted by Clemson first-year Jeadyn Lukus in the end zone. It wasn't too long before the time ran out, leading to a 39-10 final score.
Who stood out?
Klubnik, the backup quarterback for junior DJ Uiagalelei, entered the game in Clemson’s third offensive possession — the earliest he’s subbed in all season. Less than 10 minutes after he was subbed in, he completed the Tigers’ longest pass of the season on a 40-yard pass to Cole Turner. Klubnik ended the game with 20 completions on 24 attempts, passing for a total of 279 yards. He also notably had seven pass plays of more than 15 yards.
On the defensive end, Wiggins was a clear standout. He broke up two passes in the end zone and blocked a field goal. He was also responsible for the third quarter pick-six that gifted Clemson a 32-10 lead.
When was it decided?
Wiggins’ pick-six was a clear deciding point in the game. On UNC’s previous drive, the Tar Heels looked poised to bring themselves within seven points of Clemson. However, the decisive pick-six took the wind out of North Carolina’s sails, as the Tigers would soon go on to outperform the Tar Heels 15-0 in the third quarter.
Why does it matter?
North Carolina was on the cusp of a historic conference championship. A win on Saturday would have gifted UNC its first ACC title since 1980. However, due to a fumble and two interceptions, Clemson walked away with yet another ACC Championship.
When do they play next?
UNC will now await a bowl game berth.
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