Raleigh, NC – The Wolfpack’s fate was decided in fifteen furious minutes of destruction, as the orange-pant clad Tigers secured their fifth consecutive division title and their eighth consecutive Textile Bowl Victory.
The orange britches were a surprise – revealed when Wake Forest lost to Virginia Tech in pre-game warmups, meaning that Clemson could secure the division with a win.
It was a quarter of nightmares for NC State, as everything that could go wrong, went wrong.
Clemson’s first drive? Efficient. Only one of the nine plays was a ‘chunk’ play, and all nine plays went for positive yardage. Justyn Ross’ block led the way for Lawrence’s 7-yard rushing touchdown, which was followed by a Wolfpack three-and-out.
The second drive? Resilient, explosive. The antithesis of the first drive. Trevor Lawrence’s brilliance bookended the drive: a 28-yard open field scramble to open, and a 33-yard touchdown pass to Tee Higgins to close the drive.
Lowlights between the two plays were a Wolfpack time-out immediately following an injury/TV timeout, and a play where three NC State defenders were down on the field at once.
Just ten game-minutes into the game, the dam broke.
Freshman back Jordan Houston vs. veteran linebacker James Skalski. Skalski forced the fumble, and fellow linebacker Chad Smith recovered at the three-yard line. A second-and-four shovel pass to Etienne put the Tigers up 21-0.
Two solid Wolfpack rushes, two holding flags to ruin the momentum. Freshman quarterback Devin Leary drops back to pass, inexplicably dropping the ball. Tyler Davis recovers, and two plays later, Travis Etienne rushes 19 yards through arm tackles to score the Tigers’ fourth touchdown of the first quarter.
The terror of the first quarter subsided as fans trickled out of the stadium, as the Clemson onslaught eased up. Both teams exchanged scoreless, nine play drives as the second quarter wore on. After a State three and out, Clemson woke up again.
Etienne accounted for 64 of the 74 yards, but the gut punch was a jumbo-package one yard rushing score by offensive lineman John Simpson to break Clemson’s scoring drought with 4:30 left in the half.
Another three-and-out by the Wolfpack? Clemson responded with their sixth touchdown drive of the half, leaving less than a minute on the clock for State to respond.
A 41-yard Zonovan Knight rush and two Leary passes put the Wolfpack in scoring position and endangered Clemson’s shut out. In a perfect summation of the game, Grant Gibson snapped the ball over Devin Leary’s head and Clemson recovered the ball, sealing the 42-0 halftime lead for the Tigers.
The second half was an inconsistent but inconsequential performance as the inevitable Clemson victory drew nigh.
Clemson’s shutout hopes were ruined yet again by a 53-yard Zonovan Knight rushing score to open the second half – a storyline worth watching as the season draws to a close.
Immediately after surrendering the shutout, Travis Etienne tied the ACC rushing touchdown record to cap off a long drive: 49-7.
Neither team scored until early in the fourth quarter, when Christopher Dunn scored a 46-yard field goal to cut the score to 49-10.
A Wolfpack muffed punt return in the waning minutes of the game sparked a fire in Clemson once again. The Tigers capitalized on a seven play, 23-yard drive capped off by a Michael Dukes touchdown with mere seconds left on the clock (LB James Skalski missed the PAT).
Clemson covered the spread, hit the over, kept NC State under 300 yards offensively, converted all three fourth downs, and had 549 total yards of offense as they clinched another trip to Charlotte.
The laptop “incident”. The ROY bus. The return of the ROY bus, fueled by Clemson’s fifth place ranking in the inaugural CFP Poll. Two teams ranked ahead of Clemson losing earlier in the day (Penn State, Alabama). The different stars all aligned for a first quarter for the history books, securing another win in the Championship phase.