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Nov. 12, 2011
CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) - Chandler Catanzaro kicked a 43-yard field goal as time expired and No. 9 Clemson rallied from 14 points down in the second half to defeat Wake Forest 31-28 and clinch the ACC Atlantic Division title on Saturday.
Catanzaro had missed a 30-yard attempt 2 minutes before his game-winner for the Tigers (9-1, 6-1 Atlantic Coast Conference). However, Clemson's defense quickly got the ball back for one last drive. This time, Catanzaro's attempt was straight and true and sent the Tigers to the ACC title game for the second time in three years.
Catanzaro was mobbed by teammates as fans swarmed the field in celebration.
The Tigers, 7-0 at home this year, completed their first perfect season at Death Valley since 1990 and next weekend will face North Carolina State with a chance to reach 10 wins for the first time since 1991.
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Tajh Boyd overcame a poor outing with two touchdown passes after Wake Forest (5-5, 4-3) had taken a 28-21 lead. Andre Ellington rushed for 98 yards and two touchdowns for the Tigers.
Boyd finished with 343 yards passing, 141 of that in the final quarter during Clemson's comeback.
Wake Forest would've controlled the ACC Atlantic with a victory and stunned the Tigers with 21 points in the third quarter to take a 28-14 lead.
Michael Campanaro began the Demon Deacons' charge with a 50-yard punt return. Two plays later, Wake Forest had the ball again after Ellington's fumble was recovered by linebacker Joey Ehrmann. It took Brandon Pendergrass two plays to break off a 19-yard touchdown run and put the Demon Deacons ahead.
Boyd was intercepted moments later on Clemson's next series by safety Josh Bush and Pendergrass again made the Tigers pay with a 33-yard scoring run and a two-touchdown lead.
That's when Boyd, Clemson's first-year starter who led an 8-0 start to the season, showed the form he's had most of the season. He was 5 of 5 on a 68-yard drive which ended with Brandon Ford's 7-yard scoring catch.
The Tigers tied it with 5:27 to go on Jaron Brown's 10-yard touchdown grab, a series on which Boyd completed six passes for 64 yards.
Wake Forest had its chances to build on its lead down the stretch, but Jimmy Newman missed left on a 32-yard field goal attempt with 8:45 to go.
Pendergrass rushed for 134 yards and two touchdowns, while Campanaro had nine catches for the Demon Deacons.
Clemson played most of the second half without star receiver Sammy Watkins, who was injured on a third-quarter kickoff return.
For a team with everything to play for, Clemson looked tentative and out of synch most of the opening period. Wake Forest looked as if it had watched plenty of tape from the Tigers' lone loss of the season, 31-17 to Georgia Tech two weeks ago.
In that one, the Yellow Jackets showed the college football world that the best way to slow down Clemson's high-flying offense was not to give them the ball. Georgia Tech had the football for 39 minutes to the Tigers' 21.
Wake Forest used the same technique, holding the ball for 17:40 of the first half, 5:20 more than the Tigers. But while the Yellow Jackets capitalized on their opportunities, Wake Forest bogged down.
After defensive end Zach Thompson intercepted Boyd in Wake Forest territory to halt a drive, the Demon Deacons went three-and-out to give the ball right back.
Then a possession later, a botched lateral inside Clemson's 20 from Tanner Price to Orville Reynolds lost 12 yards and Jimmy Newman was low and short on a 47-yard field goal try.
Clemson had its own troubles on offense. Boyd was shaky again on his passes and the interception he threw was his third in the past six quarters. The sophomore had thrown just three interceptions during Clemson's 8-0 start.
Still, the Tigers put together a pair of 80-yard drives, both culminating in Ellington touchdown runs. He went in from 4 yards out in the opening quarter to start the scoring then leaped over the pile on 3rd-and-1 to give Clemson a 14-7 halftime lead.
Wake Forest's leading rusher, Josh Harris, did not make the trip to Clemson because of a hamstring injury.