Dread set in for Clemson football fans after the game’s first play, a simple pass that should have been a gain of five or so yards.
Instead, it went into the ground in front of the open receiver and very quickly the Tigers were punting and soon after they were down 7-0 as North Carolina moved right down the field.
Another three-and-out by the Clemson offense left Tiger fans thinking the worst.
But a funny thing happened on the way to North Carolina’s first ACC Championship since 1980 – Cade Klubnik.
Dabo Swinney made the change that so many Tigers fans have prayed for over the last several weeks, and it paid dividends in a big way.
The offense had an immediate spark and that spark seemed to spark the defense which up until the point seemed a bit laissez-faire.
Klubnik finished the evening 20-24 for 279 yards with a touchdown and led the Tigers in rushing with 30 yards on 7 carries and another touchdown in the Tigers 39-10 win.
Clemson was unable to run the ball on the porous Tar Heel defense, but threw for 317 yards and won the turnover battle 3 to 0 after giving up the ball repeatedly in recent games.
The first of those turnovers led to a Phil Mafah pass to Klubnik – you read that right – that led to the go-ahead touchdown and a 14-7 lead the Tigers would never relinquish.
The second Tar Heel turnover was a 98-yard pick-six by Nate Wiggins as the Tar Heels threatened to make it a 24-17 game with just over 5 minutes left in the third quarter.
Clemson football recovered from a slow start behind a stellar performance from Cade Klubnik and the Tiger defense
North Carolina dominated the game early, but couldn’t convert yards to points and only managed a field goal after the first drive of the game.
For Clemson, Wiggins was a star, but the defense had contributions from Trenton Simpson, Bryan Bresee and others. It was a well rounded effort against a formidable offense.
One can’t help but wonder what might have been, but the Tigers are ACC Champions for the 7th time in 8 years and an 11-2 record is nothing to be ashamed of.