Tigers Hold off North Carolina, 38-26

It may not have been the best performance of the year for the Tigers, but all that counts is the outcome of the game. Clemson escaped Saturday afternoon with a 36-28 win over North Carolina, in what will be the last time for at least two years that these two teams will face off on the gridiron.

Derrick Hamilton returned a kickoff for a 100-yard touchdown, and also brought in 102 yards in receptions Saturday afternoon to lead the Clemson Tigers past the North Carolina Tar Heels, 36-28.

The Tigers opened the scoring on the afternoon with Charlie Whitehurst connecting with Hamilton on a swing pass that ended up going 69 yards for a touchdown 5 minutes into the first quarter.

Four minutes later, after the Tigers held North Carolina to a quick 3-and-out, Clemson got on the board again when Chad Jasmin took the handoff and rumbled into the endzone from one yard out.

In all, Clemson would roll up just over 200 yards in total offense in the first quarter, and that didn't include a 60-yard touchdown pass to Duane Coleman that was called back by a penalty.

Even though the Tigers dominated the game early, UNC quarterback Darian Durant was not to be denied on this afternoon.

The second quarter saw Durant make play after play, as he led the Heels to 14 points and a surprising 14-13 lead with just over 6 minutes remaining in the half.

The Tigers would pull ahead going into the locker room on Aaron Hunt's 41-yard field goal as time expired.

"We told our kids at halftime that even if they took it down the field and scored on us, that we'd have to match them offensively," said offensive coordinator Brad Scott after the game. "Fortunately, that's what we were able to do."

North Carolina took the second half kickoff and went straight down the field, scoring on a 7-yard run by South Carolina native Ronnie McGill.

The Tigers would answer with a 1-yard scoring plunge by Charlie Whitehurst to regain the lead at 23-21 with just under 8 minutes left in the 3rd quarter. The touchdown was set up by a 30-yard pass from Whitehurst to Hamilton on 4th-and-7 on the previous play.

Darian Durant would answer with a 63-yard touchdown run on the Tar Heels' next possession to give North Carolina the lead back at 28-23.

It would be North Carolina's last score of the afternoon.

On the ensuing kickoff, Derrick Hamilton took the ball at the goal line and raced down the right sideline untouched for a 100-yard touchdown. The play seemed to be the turning point in the game.

The Clemson defense would stiffen in the 4th quarter, holding Durant and company in check until their final drive.

After two Aaron Hunt field goals gave the Tigers an 8-point advantage, Durant guided the Heels 70 yards down the field, and appeared to be close to scoring the potential game tying touchdown.

However Jamaal Fudge, who already recorded his first interception of the season earlier in the game, forced a fumble and linebacker David Dunham recovered the ball in the endzone with just 42 seconds left in the game to give Clemson the win.

"I don't remember how the ball got knocked out or if it slipped out," Durant said afterwards. "As soon as I knew it came loose, I tried to fight for it. I think I lost control of the ball before I stretched out."

The play itself was so controversial that it prompted UNC head coach John Bunting to hunt down the officials after the game to give them an earful.

Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden was pleased with the victory, even though the defense didn't have one of their best days of the season.

"It's good that we can play bad and still win the game," Bowden said in the locker room. "I thought our guys fought hard today. We'll take a win anyway we can get it. I thought Derrick Hamilton had a great game to bounce back from last week."

Clemson (5-3, 3-2) now travels to Wake Forest next weekend to face the Demon Deacons at Groves Stadium. Kickoff is set for 3:30 PM, and the game will not be televised.

Other Notes
Clemson running back Duane Coleman became the first running back this season to go over 100-yards in a single game. He finished the afternoon with 13 carries for 111 yards on the ground, and 4 catches for 48 yards through the air.

QB Charlie Whitehurst completed 18-of-34 passes for 309 yards 1 touchdown and no interceptions. Despite the gaudy numbers, the Georgia native appeared to be slightly off all afternoon long. "That was one of the worst games I've played all year," Whitehurst said. "But a win is a win."

DB Sergio Gilliam, who had not yet played in 2003 and was expected to redshirt, got in on several snaps on defense in the game.

Back up quarterback Chansi Stuckey was featured on a reverse in the first half that went for 11 yards.

CB Justin Miller also notched his first interception of the year.

Punter Cole Chason struggled mightily on the afternoon, averaging just 33.4 yards on 5 punts.

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