Enter a game with a two-game losing streak and display an offense that has looked more second-rate than the one that led the nation in scoring just a few weeks earlier, and that is the reaction to be expected.
For the second straight week, the game was put in the hands of the Tigers defense in the final minutes and this time they prevailed, as Clemson got back its winning ways and took a 20-14 victory over N.C. State Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium.
"We did just enough to get the win," said Tigers wide receiver Chansi Stuckey. "The defense made plays and the offense was able to do enough to put points on the board. This was a huge win for us. To come back and win after what has happened the last two weeks says a lot about this team.
"We kept fighting and were determined to come out with the win."
The Tigers improve to 8-3 overall and finish the ACC at 5-3.
"It's just nice to get number eight," Clemson center Dustin Fry said. "Usually we're getting number eight with a bowl win. We've got two more games and we've still got a chance to 10."
Stuckey description of the win was exactly right. The Tigers fought bitterly to the end. They had no other choice or it would have been another disappointing loss.
"The players never quit today," Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden said. "We talked last night in our team meeting, before the tame, and at halftime about playing 60 minutes."
The outcome literally came down to the 60th minute.
After Tigers placekicker Jad Dean booted a 31-yard field goal with 1:10 remaining to give them a 20-14 lead, the Wolfpack got one final chance to score a touchdown and snap their four-game losing streak.
After a poor squib kick, N.C. State started at its own 43, a mere 57 yards from victory.
On second down, with the clock running, Wolfpack quarterback Daniel Evans connected with John Dunlap for an 18-yard pass to put the ball at the Clemson 38 with about 20 seconds left.
After spiking the ball to stop the clock, Evans took the snap on second down and was flushed to his right, where he lofted a pass to Lamart Barrett at the front corner of the end zone.
The entire stadium held its collective breath as Barrett had gotten behind safety Chris Clemmons and was briefly open.
Barrett and Clemmons each leaped into the air, with Barrett coming down with it. However, an official eased the tension when he said Barrett had come down out of bounds.
It was the right call. Barrett missed giving the Wolfpack their second Hail Mary win of the season by only a few inches.
"We got lucky," Tigers defensive coordinator Vic Koenning said. "We've had some bad breaks the last couple of weeks and the guy landed out of bounds, thank goodness."
N.C. State (3-7, 2-5 ACC) had two more cracks at it. The third-down pass went eight yards and Evans was sacked on the game's final play by Ricky Sapp.
"After last week, the defense had had a sick feeling," Clemson cornerback Duane Coleman said. "There was no way we were going to come back and do the same thing this week. We had talked about making one more play than them. That is what we did."
Coleman and linebacker Nick Watkins each made big plays of their own.
Coleman intercepted a pass in the second quarter one player after Clemson quarterback Will Proctor had thrown his first. Coleman's pick prevented the Wolfpack from gaining momentum just before the half.
Watkins' interception was much more important. It came with 2:56 left in the game with the Tigers hold a precarious 17-14 lead.
With 3:06 left, Evan threw a pass that was tipped at the line of scrimmage by defensive end Gaines Adams and a few yards further down field by linebacker Antonio Clay, before it ended up in the hands of Watkins at the N.C. State 16.
The interception allowed Clemson to chew up precious time off the clock and put them in position to kick the field goal and force the Wolfpack to have to score a touchdown.
"Coach Koenning had us in the right place," Watkins said. "Without Antonio (and Adams), I don't have the opportunity to make the play."
But make plays is what the Clemson team did all day when it needed them the most.
Jacoby Ford returned the opening kickoff of the second half 77 yards to set up Clemson's final and much needed touchdown.
The defense made a goal-line stand in the second quarter after the Wolfpack had it first-and-goal at the 3. N.C. State got nothing after going for it on fourth-and-inches that resulted in no yardage.
The Tigers set up their first points of the second half with a 16-play drive after being backed up at their own two and the momentum on the side of N.C. State.
Freshman running back C.J. Spiller raced 52 yards down the right sideline in the second quarter to give Clemson its first touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
It wasn't a blowout as Las Vegas expected by laying a 16-point spread, but it was a win, and a good one at that.
"You just get your confidence back a little bit," Fry said. "The last two weeks have just been miserable. You really don't walk around as much with your chest (sticking) out. It's just a good feeling just to get a ‘W' no matter who it was against or what the score was."
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