Next up for Clemson’s top-ranked and unbeaten Tigers: the College Football Playoff’s national semifinals.
Clemson, getting a record-setting game from sophomore quarterback Deshaun Watson, beat North Carolina 45-37 in the ACC championship game in front of a crowd of 74,514 at Bank of American Stadium. The victory means the Tigers (13-0) will receive an invitation to the four-team playoffs, with a semifinal game set for Dec. 31. The Tar Heels, who had an 11-game winning streak broken, will find out their bowl destination later Sunday.
Watson, the ACC’s player of the year, was sensational. He completed 26-of-42 passes for 289 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 131 yards and two scores. His 420 total yards were an ACC championship game record. The Tigers’ 608 yards in total offense were also a title-game mark.
The Tar Heels made it close at the end when quarterback Marquise Williams hit Ryan Switzer on a 17-yard touchdown pass with 1 minute, 13 seconds remaining. After the Tar Heels were called offside on an onside kick they recovered, the Tigers fell on the ball on the next kick and ran out the clock.
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Three who mattered
Deshaun Watson: Clemson’s quarterback was too much for the Tar Heels to handle, setting an ACC championship game record of 411 all-purpose yards.
Wayne Gallman: Tigers tailback rushed for 187 yards on 28 carries with one touchdown. Also caught a 16-yard touchdown pass.
Marquise Williams: North Carolina quarterback was held in check by Tigers’ defense, although he passed for 224 yards and rushed for 81. Williams also went over the 10,000-yard mark for his career, the fifth player in ACC history to do that.
▪ Williams’ halftime passing statistics were odd. He completed 3-of-12 for 50 yards, with 46 of them coming on a scoring pass to T.J. Logan and 2 to Ryan Switzer for another touchdown.
▪ Williams didn’t play as sharply as he has for much of the season. He was under constant pressure from the Tigers’ defense and off the mark on many of his passes. But he looked better than he did in North Carolina’s season-opening loss against South Carolina in Bank of America Stadium, when he threw three interceptions.
▪ Both teams had poorly executed fake punts that didn’t come close to working. Both led to touchdowns: North Carolina scored on its next possession after Clemson punter Andy Teasdale didn’t make a first down on a fourth-and-14 in the second quarter. The Tigers scored after Tar Heels punter Joey Mangili threw an incomplete pass on his fake attempt in the third quarter.
▪ Both teams wore jerseys in their school colors (Clemson orange, North Carolina blue), instead of one team wearing white.
▪ Clemson had touchdown drives of 97 and 96 yards. The 97-yarder tied for the longest in ACC championship game history.
▪ The Tigers’ Greg Huegel missed a 47-yard field goal in the first quarter, which is a rarity. Huegel had made 21-of-23 in the Tigers’ first 12 games, including a long of 47 yards. Huegel later made a 27-yarder.
▪ When Clemson fell behind in the first quarter, it was the first time the Tigers had trailed in four games, or in 206 minutes, 14 seconds.
▪ Clemson’s T.J. Green was ejected from the game after being called for a targeting penalty. Green hit Switzer with his helmet as Switzer was catching a punt in the second quarter.
▪ Saturday’s crowd was an ACC championship game record and third consecutive sellout for the game at Bank of American Stadium.
They said it
"The guy beats you not just with his legs, he beats you with his arm, his mind, his heart, his guts, his toughness. He's like Secretariat. If you cut him open, he's got an oversized heart." -- Clemson coach Dabo Swinney on Watson.
"Who doesn't feel like you shouldn't win a game? I'm not taking anything away from Clemson, though. There's got to be a winner and a loser." -- North Carolina tailback Elijah Hood.
"They could have continued to run up the score, but we made a game of it. This team has grit." -- North Carolina quarterback Marquise Williams.
"There's tears and pain in the locker room. But this group never stopped fighting." -- Tar Heels coach Larry Fedora.
“I had a chance to look at it, and they missed it. They were wrong. That's all I'm going to say about it. They were wrong.” - Fedora on UNC’s onside kick recovery negated on an offside call that TV replays showed did not occur with 1:13 to go.