Clemson’s defense had just allowed the longest touchdown drive of the season.
The defense was spent. North Carolina just went on a 16-play, 75-yard drive that took 8:32 off the clock. Twice, the Tar Heels converted fourth downs into first downs to keep the sticks moving. They converted on a third-and-short a few plays earlier to set up a first-and-goal situation.
Starting safety Tanner Muse was out of the game with an apparent hamstring injury. Defensive tackle Jordan Williams was knocked out of the game with a head injury. Linebacker James Skalski was playing with an injured shoulder.
It would have been easy for the defense to just give up while clinging to a 21-20 lead and let the Tar Heels score when they lined up for a crucial 2-point conversion with the game on the line and 1:17 remaining.
But then Trevor Lawrence popped up in the middle of the defense’s huddle as defensive coordinator Brent Venables went over the possibilities of what UNC might do. That’s right, Trevor Lawrence.
Clemson’s quarterback was in the middle of it all, doing his best to encourage his defensive teammates on.
“It was actually a cool thing to see,” Williams said on Monday. “The whole game I would walk by Trevor and just tried to pick him up because I knew we were struggling offensively and defensively as well. But just having him out on the field with us, you knew typically the defense gathers on the field and for him to come onto the field and try to pick us up, it actually meant a lot to me.
“It showed a lot about him and his character and the type of person he is.”
Williams said that is just who Lawrence is and it was not anything that he would not have done any other time.
“It actually meant a lot to the defense. It caught me off guard seeing it, honestly. I came on later and I saw Trevor walking off the field, encouraging guys and picking them up. Honestly, that gave is like a little boost. We know we have the offense behind us.”
Williams said Lawrence was not alone. Right guard Gage Cervenka and a lot of the other offensive linemen were telling the defense to push through and that they had their back and they were going to work together.
“It was real encouraging to hear,” he said.
It lifted the defense up to make the stop as Xavier Thomas, James Skalski and Nolan Turner converged on North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell on the 2-point attempt to seal the victory.
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