Tigers became first team to win 4 straight outright league titles
CHARLOTTE — Clemson made Atlantic Coast Conference history Saturday thanks to its 42-10 victory over Pittsburgh at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.
The second-ranked Tigers became the first team in the league’s 66-history to win four straight championships, while also being the first team to win four consecutive ACC Championship Games. Clemson is just the second Power 5 school since conference title games started in 1992 to win four consecutive conference championship games, joining Florida who did it from 1993-’96.
“It has been an historic season all year for us,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “This is special. Ten years ago today I got hired at Clemson to be the head coach and we had not won an ACC Championship in twenty years, so to win our fourth straight tonight was special.”
With the victory, the Tigers (13-0) also wrapped up a fourth consecutive trip to the College Football Playoff.
“Just tell us where we are going and we will be happy about it,” Swinney said. “We will go wherever they tell us to go. We are just happy to represent the ACC.”
It was also Clemson’s 18th ACC Championship and 24th conference championship overall. The Tigers have now won five under Swinney.
Travis Etienne, who was named ACC Player of the Year earlier this week, won MVP honors when he rushed for 156 yards and scored two touchdowns. The sophomore opened the game with a 75-yard touchdown. He also had a 45-yard run and scored on a three-yard run as well.
The 156 yards marked the sixth time this season Etienne rushed for 150 or more yards in a game.
Quarterback Trevor Lawrence did not have his most accurate game of the season, the freshman completed just 12-of-24 passes for 118 yards, but he threw two touchdown passes to wide receiver Tee Higgins and did not throw an interception. He threw touchdown passes of 5 and 10 yards to Higgins, who led Clemson with three catches for 36 yards.
The Clemson defense bounced back after last week’s poor showing against South Carolina, and held the Panthers to 200 total yards.
Clemson forced three Pitt turnovers and had nine tackles for loss. However, the Panthers (7-6) did run for 192 yards, a season-high by the Tigers’ defense.
The Tigers finished with 301 rushing yards, the fifth time this season the Tigers ran for 300 or more yards in a game.
Etienne took the game’s first play from scrimmage 75 yards to open the night. He later added a 3-yard touchdown and then a 45-yard run, which led to another touchdown.
The Tigers had three one-play touchdown drives which took 13 seconds, three seconds and four seconds.
Clemson led 28-10 at halftime. The Tigers got touchdown runs of 1 and 4 yards from Adam Choice and Lyn-J Dixon.
Clemson took a 14-0 lead on Etienne’s two scores. His opening game touchdown was the fastest touchdown in ACC Championship Game history as the Tigers led 7-0 just 13 seconds into the game.
Etienne made the score 14-0 with a 3-yard score with 9:29 to play. The touchdown was set up when defensive tackle Christian Wilkins returned a Kenny Pickett fumble 18 yards to the Pitt three.
The Tigers were driving for a possible third score when head coach Dabo Swinney elected to go for a fourth-and-three at the Pitt 19. However, Lawrence missed fired on the pass to Higgins.
Pitt took the ball over on downs and drove 62 yards in nine plays for a 37-yard field goal with 1:46 to play in the first quarter.
The Panthers later made it a 14-10 game when running back Qadree Ollison rumbled in from 1-yard out to cap a 6-play, 39-yard drive 7:56 to play in the first half.
But, as fast as Pitt got back in the game, they quickly fell behind again. Etienne ran off a 45-yard jaunt and five plays later Lawrence hit Higgins for their first touchdown hookup, a 5-yard pass with 4:57 left in the half.
The Higgins’ touchdown capped a 7-play, 75-yard drive and gave the Tigers a 21-10 lead at the time.
The two hooked up again with 25 seconds left in the half when Lawrence found Higgins on a skinny post from 10 yards out. That gave Clemson a 28-10 advantage. It was also the Tigers third one-play scoring drive of the game.
The touchdown was set up when cornerback A.J. Terrell intercepted Pickett’s pass and ran it back 30 yards to the Pitt 10.
Clemson forced two first-half turnovers, both of which led to touchdowns.
Clemson will now wait and see who it will play in the CFP on Sunday. The selection show will be at noon on ESPN.