Clemson defense, Klubnik take down No. 22 North Carolina for third straight win 31-20
CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) - Will Shipley is finally glad to see Clemson on the right side of the turnover game.
The Tigers recovered two first-quarter fumbles from ACC leading rusher Omarion Hampton and Clemson’s defense clamped down on high-scoring No. 22 North Carolina in a 31-20 victory Saturday night.
Shipley, Clemson’s all-ACC tailback, was front-and-center of his team’s issues at the start of the season, losing two fumbles in a season-opening, surprise loss at Duke. This time, it was the Tar Heels (8-3, 4-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) who melted down when they could’ve - many would say should’ve - led 21-0 in the opening period.
“It’s like coach Swinney always says, ‘The worm is turning,’” Shipley said with a smile. “Have any of y’all heard that? I hadn’t other than from him.”
It means, for those of Shipley’s generation, that the mistakes Clemson (7-4, 4-4) made too often during its 4-4 start have been cut down in its past three wins, which including two victories over ranked opponents in Notre Dame and the Tar Heels.
“Things are rolling our way,” said Shipley, who had 126 yards rushing and a 33-yard TD run. “But it’s also about effort.”
That was apparent when North Carolina quickly got to the red zone on its first drive and freshman Peter Woods jarred the ball free from Hampton for another first-year player T.J. Parker to recover.
Then came cornerback Nate Wiggins, a highly regarded NFL draft prospect, who chased down Hampton steps away from a 64-yard scoring run and knocked the football out of bounds for a touchback.
“That may be the greatest play I’ve ever seen,” said Clemson quarterback Cade Klubnik, who threw for 219 yards and as 3-yard score to tight end Jake Briningstool. Klubnick also ran for 44 yards and a critical 1-yard stretch TD right before halftime that put Clemson ahead to stay.
When asked what made Wiggins know he’d catch up with Hampton, he responded with a smile, “I know I’m fast.”
Phil Mafah had a 3-yard TD run and Shipley’s score put the Tigers ahead 28-14 and North Carolina couldn’t respond against Clemson’s fiercesome defense.
Reigning ACC player of the year Drake Maye was 5 of 9 for 120 yards in the opening quarter. He was just 11 of 27 for 89 yards and an interception the rest of the way as the Tar Heels lost their sixth straight to Clemson.
For Tar Heels coach Mack Brown, it was a lot like last year’s ACC championship game where the Tigers routed his club, 39-10.
“I thought we battled them better tonight, the game was better tonight, we had a better chance to win tonight,” Brown said. “You can’t do some of the things we did last and this year and beat a great team like Clemson.”
Excited fans, mostly Clemson students, twice rushed onto the field before the final seconds ticked off and drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. No matter, Clemson ran out the clock moments later the celebration was on in the season’s final home game.
“We’re playing our best football and it’s fun to watch,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said.
ACC leading rusher Hampton had 178 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including one of 55 yards.
North Carolina: The Tar Heels may have lost some motivation early in this one when Louisville’s 38-31 victory at Miami went final during their opening drive to clinch the last open spot in the ACC title game. North Carolina needed a loss by the Cardinals and a victory over Clemson for any chance at the league title.
Clemson: The Tigers have gotten the better of North Carolina and quarterback Drake Maye the past year. They intercepted Maye twice including a 98-yard pick six in the 39-10 win in last year’s ACC championship game. Maye was pressured throughout and sacked four times.
Clemson won against two ranked opponents this season as a unranked team. The last time that happened was when the Tigers defeated three ranked opponents without being in the Top 25 in 2005 (Texas A&M, Florida State and rival South Carolina).
North Carolina finishes the regular season at rival North Carolina State on Saturday.
Clemson goes to rival South Carolina on Saturday night to close the regular season.
Copyright 2023 WITN. All rights reserved.