5 Plays to Remember From the 2002 Season

The 2002 regular season for the Clemson Tigers is one that won't be forgotten anytime in the near future. Today, CUTigers.com takes a look back at the 5 plays that Tiger fans will be talking about for years to come. Highlights include big time plays from Whitehurst, Miller, Currie, and Sampson.

There are many memorable plays that Tiger fans will take away from the 2002 regular season. Incredible performances by freshmen Charlie Whitehurst and Justin Miller are just some of highlights from a roller coaster year. Here's a look at which plays defined the Tigers' season in a positive way, starting from #5 all the way through #1.

Wake Forest at Clemson
#5 Mance Preserves the Win
In one of the most unusual games of the season, the Tigers rallied from a 23-14 2nd half deficit to defeat the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. After Bernard Rambert scored his second touchdown of the game to give Clemson a 31-23 lead with just over 3 minutes left, the Deacs had one last chance at a tying score.

Driving deep into Tiger territory, Wake Forest running back Chris Barclay cut through the middle of the line of scrimmage and appeared to have an open path to the end zone. As the field opened up, senior cornerback Brian Mance punched the ball out in a last ditch effort at about the 5-yard line. The football rolled through the end line for a touchback with 1:15 left. The Tigers then ran out the clock for a win that put a halt to a two-game losing streak.

Wake Forest came into the game ranked #2 in the country in turnover differential, but 5 second half turnovers negated over 500 yards in total offense for the Deacs. Mance's play killed any hopes of an upset, just when it appeared as though Wake Forest was going to gain the upper hand in heart-stopping fashion.

Louisiana Tech at Clemson
#4 Introducing Justin Miller
In a play that has seemingly been forgotten given the fact that it happened so early, freshman cornerback Justin Miller saved the Tigers from an early upset loss to Louisiana Tech. In his first significant action of the season, Miller stepped in front of a Luke McCown pass in the endzone to keep the Bulldogs at bay late in the 4th quarter.

To his credit, Miller enforced his will upon the Bulldog wide receiver and literally made a play that a Clemson cornerback had failed to make in what seemed like ages. Instead of Tech pulling within one score with time winding down in the 4th quarter, Miller iced the game with the interception, and the Tigers went on for an "easy" win.

"I was supposed to play inside leverage on the ball. The receiver broke outside then he broke back inside, and when he broke inside I saw the quarterback getting ready to throw and I just broke underneath on the ball and I ended up being in the right place at the right time," said Miller.

The play itself would only be a glimpse of what was to come from the true freshman.

Georgia Tech at Clemson
#3 Eric Sampson Saves the Day
After letting a 24-6 lead turn into a 24-19 gut wrenching nail biter in a monsoon at Death Valley, Eric Sampson intercepted an A.J. Suggs pass with just over a minute left in the game to preserve the win.

After the Tigers were seemingly on their way to the win behind the hard running of Yusef Kelly, Willie Simmons had trouble with a low snap and Georgia Tech recovered the fumble and began an improbable march down the field.

After already connecting with Tiger-killer Kerry Watkins to put the Yellow Jackets deep in Clemson territory, Suggs inexplicably threw an errant pass that landed right between the numbers, "3" and "5" on Sampson's jersey.

Sampson's interception overshadowed an enormous day by wide receiver Derrick Hamilton, who scored on a 80-yard run and provided more fireworks on special teams with a 90+ yard kickoff return.

"It was big and it was definitely fitting for the defense to close it out like that," Sampson said of his first career interception. "It's good to win a game on defense. Our defense has been playing too good to not take a game under control."

The game was another thriller in a rivalry that has become one of the most exciting in all of college football. The 5-point win marked the first time in 5 years that the game wasn't decided by exactly 3 points. At the time, the win also provided hopes of a 9 or 10 win season.

Clemson at Duke
#2 Currie Breaks Out of the Slump
In what some Tiger players refer to as, "the play of the season," Charlie Whitehurst and Airese Currie prevented what would have been one of the most embarrassing losses of the modern era for Clemson football.

Trailing by 14 points midway through the 4th quarter at Wallace Wade Stadium and facing 4th-and-10 from the Duke 47-yard line, Charlie Whitehurst took the snap, remained poised in the pocket, and calmly hit Airese Currie going across the middle of the field for one of the most important scores of the year.

On the play, it looked as though the freshman quarterback was going to try and run for the yardage, but he remained in the pocket and directed Currie across the middle of the field before throwing a 13-yard strike. Currie would then allude two Duke defenders and outrun everyone else to the endzone.

Instead of turning the ball over on downs and almost insuring a loss to a team that hadn't won an ACC game in three years, the Tigers got back into the game and Charlie Whitehurst became one of the big stories of the year in the ACC. Clemson would go on for the win, and Whitehurst would throw for over 400 yards and 4 touchdowns in the victory.

"I thought it was just a matter of time before we had success. It wasn't just me, we had great protection in the 4th quarter and our receivers made plays," said Whitehurst. "Airese's catch in particular- he made a great run after the catch. It was just a matter of time, I knew we were about ready to break it open."

South Carolina at Clemson
#1 Whitehurst's Sideline Scoring Scamper
Faced with third-and-10 from the Gamecocks' 11-yard line, freshman quarterback Charlie Whitehurst avoided the blitz by South Carolina's quarterback-turned-safety Corey Jenkins, rolled left and held the ball high as he crossed the goal for the tying touchdown. It appeared as though Whitehurst was going to step out of bounds, but he held his balance and tip toed down the sideline for the crucial score.

"I thought he was going to sack me, so I had to do something, I thought I'd probably step out of bounds to tell you the truth. Fortunately I made the play and we won," said Whitehurst.

Whitehurst worked his magic on the following drive, completing passes to Derrick Hamilton for 23 yards and Jackie Robinson for 30 yards to put the Tigers in business at the South Carolina 1. Bernard Rambert would score from two yards out just moments later to give the Tigers a lead they would never relinquish.

Whitehurst's play not only appeared to be the one that sucked the life out of the Gamecock defense, it gave the Tigers the edge they needed to close the deal. The win gave Tommy Bowden a 3-1 record against Lou Holtz and archrival South Carolina, and more importantly it provided a needed recruiting boost in the eyes of some of the top prospects around the southeast.

"He's a very composed player," said head coach Tommy Bowden. "And the good thing is that it's only his fourth start. It's the first time he had pressure like that against a very good defense and had good results."

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