CLEMSON, S.C. - After two consecutive losses - and 11 weeks of games - Clemson coach Tommy Bowden wasn't sure how much energy or emotion his players had left.
Freshman tailback C.J. Spiller and the Tigers defense showed against North Carolina State they had enough to snap their two-game losing streak.
Spiller ran for a career-high 154 yards and a touchdown, while the defense made critical stops near the end of each half in the Tigers' 20-14 victory Saturday.
"It's been a long, tough season," Clemson center Dustin Fry said. "You kind of go through a little bit of self doubt, 'Are we going to be the kind of rushing team we need to be? Are we the kind of offense we thought we were?' ... It's a relief to see we are still a pretty good offense."
The Tigers (8-3, 5-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) looked like the ACC's best team three weeks ago after a rousing 31-7 win against Georgia Tech. But their potent scoring offense - averaging nearly 43 points a game to lead the nation - was held to a touchdown and four field goals in losses to Virginia Tech and Maryland that took the Tigers out of the title hunt.
And while Clemson couldn't exactly break out as it had before - 1,000-yard rusher James Davis was limited to 34 yards - Spiller provided enough of a spark to send the Wolfpack (3-7, 2-5) to their fifth loss in a row.
"That was the main thing, just getting the win and getting some confidence going into our last game," Spiller said.
The Tigers take next week off before finishing the regular season against archrival South Carolina. Then there's a bowl game and the potential for Clemson to finish with 10 victories for the first time since 1990.
"Whatever it takes to get the win," guard Nathan Bennett said. "The last two weeks were pretty much devastating ... Now we can look forward."
The game began much like the past two - until Spiller got involved.
He had a 17-yard carry with Clemson on its own 12 in the second quarter that gave the team some breathing room. Three plays later, he took off on a 52-yard TD run - Spiller's fifth scoring play of at least 50 yards this season.
"We came into a game thinking this was a must-win game, especially to get these seniors to a bowl game," the Wolfpack's Toney Baker said. "I feel so bad for them, but I really think we left it all on the field."
The loss guarantees North Carolina State its second losing season in the past three years. It also spoiled a career game for Baker, who had 174 yards.
North Carolina State coach Chuck Amato said no one was happy with the losing streak. But "these youngsters are something special and I'm here to dwell on the good, because there's an awful lot of good they did," he said.
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