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Tigers’ defense shines as Clemson outlasts Tar Heels in home finale

Ashleigh Snyder
Clemson defensive end T.J. Parker tackles North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye during the Tigers’ game against the Tar Heels in Memorial Stadium on Nov. 18, 2023.

On their senior day, the Clemson Tigers (7-4, 4-4 ACC) defeated the No. 20 North Carolina Tar Heels (8-3, 4-3 ACC) by a score of 31-20 at Memorial Stadium on Saturday.

Despite a slow start in the first quarter, the Tigers were fueled by two recovered fumbles in the first half and a successful rushing attack to guide them to their third straight win.

On North Carolina’s opening drive, the Tar Heels’ 1st-and-goal rushing attempt by running back Omarion Hampton was tag-teamed by freshmen defensive duo Peter Woods and T.J. Parker, with the former stripping the ball and the latter recovering it to save the Tigers from early points against them.

A few drives later, Hampton was cut loose again, but inches before reaching the end zone, he was caught by cornerback Nate Wiggins, who punched the ball out of Hampton’s arm, sending it out of bounds in the end zone for a touchback. Wiggins also had an interception later in the game.

After the game, head coach Dabo Swinney spoke on the play of the game made by the standout corner.

“That lit the fire for us and got us going,” Swinney said of Wiggins. “That was inspiring.”

Although the Tar Heels were first to strike when quarterback Drake Maye sent a 33-yard pass into the hands of J.J. Jones to open the scoring late in the first, the Clemson defense was quick to put a stop to their momentum. The Tigers totaled four sacks for a loss of five yards throughout the game, compared to North Carolina’s zero.

Quarterback Cade Klubnik and the offense woke up in the second quarter. Klubnik led a steady 14-play drive that was finished off with a pass to tight end Jake Briningstool for a 3-yard touchdown to tie up the score at 7-7 with 10:10 left in the second quarter.

From that point forward, the Tigers gained momentum and remained in control for the duration of the game. In the final play of the first half, Klubnik found an opening with eight seconds remaining and used his legs to cross the ball just over the end zone line, and Clemson headed into the locker room up 14-7. Not only did this dive give Clemson its first lead of the game, but it also gave the team a sense of offensive momentum entering the second half.

Throughout the game, Clemson’s defense stifled the Tar Heels’ passing offense, holding Maye to just 16 completions on 36 pass attempts. And when the Tigers needed a stop, they delivered more often than not, forcing North Carolina to go 4 for 14 on third down attempts.

The Tigers also had plenty of success rushing the ball, recording 247 yards on the ground. This effort was led by junior running back Will Shipley, who ran for a team-high 126 yards and one touchdown on 18 attempts. Fellow tailback Phil Mafah added 84 yards, as well as a touchdown of his own. Klubnik also found success with his legs, tallying 44 yards on the ground.

With Saturday’s performance, Shipley became the 10th player in program history to reach 4,000 career all-purpose yards.

The win ends Clemson’s three-game homestand in Memorial Stadium, where the Tigers were victorious against two top-20 opponents en route to their three-game win streak. Swinney believes that his team has picked up speed as of late, entering the last week of the regular season in great form.

“We are playing our best football, and it’s fun to watch,” he said.

The Tigers will be back in action against South Carolina next Saturday night when the team will look to avenge last year’s loss at home. Kickoff will be at 7:30 p.m. at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, South Carolina, on the SEC Network.

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About the Contributors
Griffin Barfield
Griffin Barfield, Asst. Sports Editor
Ashleigh Snyder
Ashleigh Snyder, Photo Editor
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