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Klubnik, Wiggins propel Clemson past Tar Heels in ACC Championship

Matt Mynes // Photo Editor

Clemson quarterback Cade Klubnik flourished in the 2022 ACC Championship game, completing 20 of 24 passes for 279 yards and one touchdown against the Tar Heels on Dec. 3, 2022. 

Cade Klubnik had a coming-out party, Nate Wiggins made play-after-play and Clemson dominated in all three phases in a 39-10 win over North Carolina in the ACC Championship game on Saturday night.

After two 3-and-outs and a sluggish start to the game on offense, Clemson made a pivotal switch at quarterback from starting signal-caller DJ Uiagalelei to Klubnik, who played a near-flawless game.

Down 7-0 as he took the field, the five-star freshman didn’t flinch, leading the Tigers on a nine-play, 71-yard drive that ended with him completing a 1-yard passing touchdown to Davis Allen to tie the game.

From then on out, it was Klubnik’s heroics that propelled the entire team, as he was the focal point of the Tigers’ 39-3 run after the Tar Heels’ initial score.

After the game, head coach Dabo Swinney said Klubnik was going to come in the third series “no matter what,” and he made that decision the Sunday after last week’s loss to South Carolina. 

In the win, Klubnik completed 20 of 24 passes for 279 yards and one touchdown, adding 30 rushing yards and 19 receiving yards on top of his play through the air.

“You saw what Cade can do tonight,” Swinney said. “He’s worked his butt off all year to get ready, and I thought he might take it in the Notre Dame game. It didn’t work out, but he’s just kept grinding and kept preparing. Tonight, he took it and didn’t look back.”

His biggest play of the night came on a 68-yard completion to Cole Turner down the left sideline that set up his 1-yard rushing score on the ensuing play. Turner finished with 101 yards on three receptions, making him the first receiver to record 100 or more yards in a single game all season. 

“Coach Swinney and coach Streeter had told me all year to prepare like every week like you’re going to play, and that’s been my mindset,” Klubnik said. “I’ve learned so much this year. I’m just super thankful for getting to just sit back and watch.”

On the other side of the ball, Nate Wiggins was just as impactful for the Tigers. The sophomore cornerback had a 98-yard pick-six at the 5:05 mark in the third quarter to give Clemson a 32-10 at the 5:05 mark in the third quarter. He also had two pass breakups in the end zone and blocked a 31-yard field goal attempt midway through the second quarter. 

Wiggins wasn’t the only Tiger involved in the takeaway department, though, as defensive tackle Ruke Orhorhoro recovered a Drake Maye fumble with just under two minutes left in the first quarter. The fumble recovery set up a Phil Mafah 2-yard score two plays later, giving Clemson a 14-7 lead that the Tigers never looked back from the rest of the game.

As for defense, Clemson held North Carolina to 384 total yards and 4.9 yards per play. The unit also forced three turnovers on the night as the Tigers’ offense finished with zero and kept the ball out of harm’s way. 

Linebacker Jeremiah Trotter Jr. led the Tigers in total tackles and sacks, with nine and 3.0, respectively, continuing his recent success as Clemson’s middle linebacker. 

With the victory, Clemson sealed a ticket to the Orange Bowl, which will be played on Dec. 30 in Miami, Florida.

“No matter what happened tonight, we had a good year. But anytime you win 11 and you win your league you had a great year,” Swinney said. 

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Justin Robertson
Justin Robertson, Associate Editor
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