Clemson Flashback: Why Tigers’ last tie felt like a victory

Clemson Flashback: Why Tigers’ last tie felt like a victory

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Clemson Flashback: Why Tigers’ last tie felt like a victory

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The last time the Clemson football program finished a game tied with another team, it felt like a victory. Quite frankly, the Tigers should have lost to Virginia when the Cavaliers came to Death Valley on October 12, 1991.

The week before, Clemson was riding high following its win over No. 19 Georgia Tech. The Tigers moved to No. 6 in the AP Poll and were in the national championship conversation. However, the following week that all came crashing down when they paid a visit to un-ranked Georgia in Athens.

Behind freshman quarterback Eric Zeier, the Bulldogs stunned the Tigers with a 27-12 victory, snapping Clemson’s eight-game winning streak, which dated back to the previous season.

Though the Tigers dropped to No. 18 in the polls and were knocked out of the national championship race, they were still in position to win their first ACC Championship since 1988. However, they could not afford for the Georgia loss to beat them twice because Virginia was rolling into town and it was playing with a lot of confidence with back-to-back wins over Duke and Kansas.

Georgie Welsh was now in his 10th season at Virginia, where he slowly built the Cavaliers from an ACC bottom dweller to a consistent winner in the conference. The year before, Virginia snapped Clemson’s 29-game winning streak in the series, and they were looking for their first win ever at Memorial Stadium.

For the first 56 minutes of the game, the Cavaliers were in prime position to do just that, as they had a 20-10 lead on Clemson. They grabbed their lead thanks two Matt Blundin touchdown passes and two field goals by kicker Michael Husted.

But the Tigers roared back in the final minutes of the game. First, fullback Rudy Harris scored from a yard out to make it a 20-17 lead with 3:22 to play in the game. Harris finished the game with 102 yards on 26 carries.

However, it appeared Virginia had the game wrapped up when running back Terry Kirby took a handoff on a third-and-two play from the UVa 45. But Clemson’s Robert O’Neal jarred the ball loose and linebacker Kenzil Jackson recovered the fumble at the Cavs’ 48 with 2:49 to play.

The Tigers moved the football to the Virginia 27-yard line before the drive bogged down. Freshman Nelson Welch hit a clutch 44-yard field goal with 46 second to go, tying the score at 20-20.

But Blundin had the Cavaliers on the move when they got the ball back and moved the football to the Clemson 17-yard line. Husted had already made kicks from 32 and 47 yards, so it seemed inevitable that Virginia was going to beat Clemson for a second straight year.

However, linebacker Wayne Simmons had other ideas. He leaped just high enough to get a hand on the ball, causing the kick to go wide and securing the 20-20 tie.

Because of the comeback, and the way the game ended, the 20-20 tie felt more like a win for Clemson and a loss for the Cavaliers. Clemson fans and players celebrated on the field, and the tie later proved to be the turning point moment in the season and put the Tigers on the right path to another ACC Championship.

Running back Ronald Williams, who had a 56-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, finished the afternoon with 185 yards on the ground and with 242 all-purpose yards, both career highs. It was the third straight game Williams hit the century mark on the ground and the fourth time in five games to start the 1991 season. Through five games, Williams led the ACC with 581 yards and averaged 116.2 yards per game.

The Tigers finished the game with 511 total yards, 315 coming on the ground. It was the most yards for a Clemson offense in a game it did not win.

The 20-20 tie was the last for the Clemson football team. In 1995, the NCAA adopted overtime, ending ties in college football for good.

photo courtesy of Clemson Athletic Communications 

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