CLEMSON, S.C. — As soon as his foot struck the ball, Chandler Catanzaro knew that No. 9 Clemson was on the way to the Atlantic Coast Conference title game.
Catanzaro rebounded from missing a 30-yard attempt minute earlier to kick a 43-yard field goal as time expired to lift the Tigers (9-1, 6-1) to a 31-28 victory over Wake Forest and to their second ACC Atlantic Division title in three seasons.
“That was the best kick of my career,” Catanzaro said. “I was just so proud of myself for that.”
As were his teammates and most of the 80,000 at Death Valley. Players and fans streamed on to the field when it was over, swarming Clemson’s sophomore placekicker.
“I felt like someone had me around the neck there for a while,” Catanzaro said with a laugh.
Tajh Boyd overcame an awful start and two interceptions to throw for 343 yards and two touchdowns after the Tigers had fallen behind 28-14 in the third quarter. Andre Ellington had 98 yards and a pair of touchdown runs as Clemson finished 7-0 at home, its first perfect season at Memorial Stadium since 1990.
There’s more left to play for, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said.
“We’re always trying to be the best and today we’re the best in the division,” Swinney said. “But we’ve got other goals.”
Next up is a 10th victory, something that hadn’t been accomplished in 21 years. The Tigers get their first chance at North Carolina State next Saturday.
Wake Forest would’ve controlled the ACC Atlantic with a victory. The Demon Deacons stunned the Tigers with 21 points in the third quarter to take a 28-14 lead.
Clemson got two colossal stops on defense in the final five minutes to pull this one out, the last when Rennie Moore and Brandon Thompson sacked Wake Forest quarterback Tanner Price on third down to set up Clemson’s winning drive.
“We’re out there to put the fire out, no matter where it is,” Moore said.
Clemson played most of the second half without star receiver Sammy Watkins, who was injured on a third-quarter kickoff return. Swinney said the injury was not serious and his freshman will have a sore shoulder for a couple of days.
Wake Forest looked as if it had watched plenty of tape from the Tigers’ only loss of the season, 31-17 to Georgia Tech two weeks ago.
In that one, the Yellow Jackets showed that one way to slow down Clemson’s high-flying offense was not to give them the ball.
Wake Forest used the same technique, but while the Yellow Jackets capitalized on their opportunities, Wake Forest bogged down.