Despite being banged up at linebacker and struggling in the first half of Saturday’s game against Virginia Tech, Clemson’s defense stepped up in the final 30 minutes and caused a couple of game-changing turnovers in the third quarter to help the third-ranked Tigers pull away from the Hokies for a 45-10 victory at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, Va.
After Trevor Lawrence was intercepted in the end zone by Virginia Tech defensive back Divine Deablo at the 5:30 mark of the third quarter with the Tigers ahead by just a touchdown, Clemson’s defense wasted no time getting the ball back to Lawrence and the offense.
On the first play of VT’s possession following the pick, quarterback Braxton Burmeister ran for a couple of yards before being met by Clemson defensive end Myles Murphy, who knocked the ball loose for a forced fumble that was recovered by cornerback Mario Goodrich at VT’s 12-yard line.
Two plays later, the Tigers padded their lead thanks to a 7-yard touchdown run by Lawrence, his second rushing score of the night that put Clemson up 24-10 with 4:45 left in the third quarter.
Later, in the final minutes of the frame, with Hendon Hooker in at quarterback in place of the injured Burmeister, Hooker muffed a snap on a play from Clemson’s 30-yard line, and the loose ball was picked up by cornerback Derion Kendrick and taken to the house for a 66-yard touchdown that made the score 31-10 and essentially put the game away.
Clemson’s defense recovered its third fumble of the second half midway through the fourth quarter at a point when it looked like the Hokies might find the end zone for a touchdown that would have cut their deficit to 38-17.
But a couple of plays after a 47-yard pass from third-string quarterback Knox Kadum to running back Jalen Holston set up VT at Clemson’s 6-yard line, linebacker Keith Maguire stripped the ball from Holston on a running play, and it was scooped in by defensive tackle Nyles Pinckney at the 9-yard line for a turnover that kept the Hokies from scoring.
With the win, Clemson finished the regular season with a 9-1 record (8-1 ACC) and clinched a spot in the ACC Championship Game, while Virginia Tech fell to 4-6 and 4-5 in conference play.
The Tigers will make their sixth straight ACC title game appearance and try to win their sixth consecutive conference title against now-No. 2 Notre Dame on Dec. 19 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C.
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