Danny Ford described Clemson’s tie to South Carolina to close the 1986 regular season as an empty feeling. Though the Tigers’ won their first outright ACC Championship since 1982, they closed the year with back-to-back ties to end the regular season.
David Treadwell kicked a field goal in the final minutes against Maryland and South Carolina to force a tie. The kick against Maryland allowed the Tigers to claim an ACC Championship. The Tigers celebrated the tie against the Terrapins, but no one was happy following their tie to the Gamecocks.
“I guess we feel like the people in the stands at this point,” Ford said to the media after the game. “It was a frozen stadium at the end of the football game. Everybody just sat there and looked at each other and did not know whether to jump up, holler or start crying. That’s kind of the way it is like in our dressing room.
“It might have been a good day for a playoff,” he continued. “I think everybody would have liked an overtime today.”
Regardless, Clemson accepted a bid to play Stanford in the Gator Bowl on December 27, 1986. It was dubbed a matchup of the Tigers’ strong defense against the Cardinal’s high-flying passing attack.
It almost turned out to be a dud.
Clemson rolled to a 27-0 halftime lead, while racking up 291 yards of offense. Quarterback Rodney Williams completed 8 of 11 passes in the opening half to keep the Stanford defense honest. That allowed the running game, behind Terrence Flagler and Kenny Flowers, along with fullbacks Tracy Johnson and Chris Lancaster, to take off.
It did not help the Cardinal that it was without starting quarterback John Paye, who was named to the Pac-10 second team following the 1986 regular season. Paye suffered a shoulder injury in practice and had to undergo surgery. Without their starting quarterback, the Cardinal managed just 54 total yards in the first two quarters.
After punting on its first possession of the game, Clemson scored on its next five. The Tigers scored 20 points in the second quarter, following a five-yard Lancaster touchdown with 5:29 to play in the first.
In the second, Williams scored on a one-yard run to make the score 14-0 and following a Treadwell 22-yard field goal, Ray Williams took the ball on a reverse and scored from 14 yards out for a 24-0 Clemson lead.
Treadwell added a 46-yard field goal with 49 seconds left in the half for a 27-0 advantage.
However, Clemson nearly gave the game away in the second half. The offense bogged down, managing just 82 yards in the last 30 minutes, while the defense allowed 228 yards and three touchdowns, including two in the fourth quarter.
The Cardinal eventually got the ball back at their own 28 with a chance to win the game with 1:43 left in the game. But Michael Dean Perry and the Clemson defense held as Clemson hung on for a 27-21 victory.
Rodney Williams was named the game’s MVP after he completed 12-of-19 passes for 135 yards. Flagler led the Tigers with 82 yards on the ground, while Flowers had 67 yards. Clemson finished the game with 238 yards on the ground.
The win upped the Tigers’ record to 8-2-2, as they finished ranked No. 17 in the final AP Poll.
—file photo courtesy of Clemson Athletic Communications
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