Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson scored five touchdowns, three through the air and two on the ground, and tight end Jordan Leggett caught two touchdown passes as #3 Clemson outlasted #23 Virginia Tech 42-35 in the ACC Championship game on Saturday night.
For Clemson, the victory seals a spot in the College Football Playoff that will begin at the end of the month, following a turbulent final month that saw the Tigers lose a home game to Pittsburgh before getting all it could handle from a feisty Virginia Tech team that just wouldn’t go away in the conference championship game.
It was all Clemson early in this one, as the Tigers leaped out to a 14-0 lead behind a strong nine-play, 79-yard drive that ended in a Deshaun Watson touchdown run on the opening possession, just before a pass-interference aided nine-play, 83-yard drive that ended in a Jordan Leggett touchdown catch to put the Tigers up two scores in the first.
On Virginia Tech’s next offensive possession, the Tigers appeared to have held the Hokies to another three-and-out, but punter Mitchell Ludwig swung the momentum back in Tech’s direction with a completed fake punt pass on 4th-and-15 to Terrell Edmunds across the middle. The play sparked the Hokies offense, which with second life, scored on a one-yard touchdown run by Travon McMillian to cut into the Clemson lead before the start of the second quarter.
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On the following possession, after a crucial 50/50 pass interference call on Hokies defensive back Brandon Facyson on 3rd-and-long kept the Clemson drive alive, Deshaun Watson completed his second touchdown pass of the night to tight end Jordan Leggett to re-extend the Clemson lead to 21-7.
But yet again, the Hokies would not go away. Junior quarterback Jerod Evans marched the offense right back up the field with four minutes and change remaining in the first half, scoring on an 11-yard touchdown run to give the Hokies momentum heading into the second half.
However, all momentum that the Hokies gained before half was erased quickly in the third quarter, as Clemson’s defense forced three straight Virginia Tech three-and-outs to start the second half, with the Hokies running nine plays for -5 yards during that span.
In between the three stagnant offensive possessions for the Hokies, Clemson was able to score twice on the ground with running back Wayne Gallman and quarterback Deshaun Watson, building what appeared to be an insurmountable 35-14 lead as the clock ticked down in the third quarter.
But when all looked as it was lost for the Hokies, the offense bounced back with two scoring drives in the next six minutes of game action, with a 27-yard touchdown run from Travon McMillian late in the 3rd quarter, and a Jerod Evans run from five yards out to cut the lead to 35-28 with 11 minutes to play.
The Hokies completely swung the momentum back in their direction, but after Clemson quarterback found Deon Cain on a 39-yard strike on 3rd down to bring the Tigers into the red zone yet again, Watson hit sophomore Hunter Renfrow on a nifty run-pass option bubble screen from 15 yards out to move the lead back out to 14.
The Hokies have been all about resiliency all season long, and this game continued to be no different. With Tech down two scores with seven minutes left, Evans moved the team right up the field, concluding their two-minute scoring drive by hitting Cam Phillips on a wheel route for a 26-yard touchdown pass.
It was one of a game-high 12 catches for Phillips, who finished with 92 yards receiving and the lone touchdown catch.
After the Hokies forced Clemson to go three-and-out, Virginia Tech had one last chance to make their ACC Championship dreams a reality. Evans marched the Hokies right up the field, hitting Isaiah Ford on an out-route to put the Hokies in business at the Clemson 28 yard line. But that was all she wrote for the Hokies offense, because after two quick plays put the Hokies into a third and five, Evans was sacked.
The Hokies faced fourth and seven and Clemson brought the house on a blitz. Evans was hit as he threw and his pass was intercepted by All-ACC defensive back Cordrea Tankersley for his second pick of the night, sealing the second-straight conference championship for the Tigers.
It is the first time in 28 years that Clemson has won back-to-back ACC Titles, and the team has gone 26-2 since the start of the 2015 season.
The Tigers, currently sitting at #3 in the College Football Playoff Rankings, will await the final rankings on Sunday afternoon to find out who they will play in the College Football Playoff Semifinals on December 31st.
For the Hokies, they will use their 9-4 campaign as an excellent year one stepping stone under new head coach Justin Fuente. The future is bright for the the Hokies, who after going toe-to-toe with one of the top teams in the country, will await their bowl game destination that will be announced in the coming days.
Stay with FightingGobbler.com for more news and reaction from this game, as well as all of your Virginia Tech football news leading up to the bowl game.