Clemson defensive lineman Christian Wilkins closed his eyes as NC State kicker Kyle Bambard sent the football sailing towards the goal post on the east end of Memorial Stadium on Saturday.
With the game tied at the 6:39 mark of the fourth quarter, the Wolfpack drove the football 55 yards in 14 plays putting them in field goal position with two seconds left in the game. However, Bambard’s kick sailed just to the right, barely missing the right goal post.
In a matter of seconds, the third-ranked Tigers went from the realization of losing its first home game in over three years, and possibly an opportunity at a national championship, to pure jubilation in getting another chance to win the game.
“I ended up on the ground,” Wilkins said. “I just kind of looked up and saw it starting to sail and then I kind of closed my eyes because I couldn’t believe it was actually happening and I just waited for the crowd to cheer. I heard the crowd and man I knew they had messed up and we had another chance.”
It was not Bambard’s only missed field goal attempt. In fact, Wilkins blocked the second one. With 8:56 left in the third quarter, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson completed a pass to Mike Williams, who had the ball stripped by NC State’s Niles Clark and it was returned 70 yards up the far sideline by Shawn Boone.
That set up a 37-yard field goal attempt, which Wilkins broke through and blocked.
“Coach (Dan) Brooks calls all these field goal blocks. It just set us up perfectly. You had Dexter Lawrence man handling guys inside so I was able to take advantage of,” Wilkins said.
Bambard also missed a 43-yard attempt on the Wolfpack’s opening drive of the game, as it hit the right upright and bounced to the ground. It was a sign of things to come for the sophomore kicker.
“It was a real close one. Hats off to NC State. They came here prepared, they fought hard, we let them get some plays and they took advantage, and they really made this a closer game than we would have liked,” Wilkins said. “Hats off to them and good job by us for sticking together and going down to get the win.”
Clemson (7-0, 4-0 ACC) improved to 4-0 this season in games decided by seven points or less, and are 15-2 under Swinney. Winning some really close games , Wilkins said it just proves their capabilities of finishing strong and not giving up.
“When we need it, we get it. That’s really what it is and that goes into the off season and how we practice all year,” the sophomore said. “We are so big on finishing strong and when we really need it, we are going to get it. You need to win games like those.”
—Photo Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports