Clemson came to Atlanta Saturday like a big, orange, pumpkin-headed horseman riding out of Sleepy Hollow, S.C., with the intent of spoiling Georgia Tech's Homecoming and Halloween weekend, and for all we know their enjoyment of Georgia losing to Florida.
The Tigers certainly came close enough to it, failing -- just as they did last year -- on a last-second Hail Mary pass to the end zone. Tech's Dawan Landry intercepted the heave to seal a 10-9 win before a sellout crowd officially announced at 55,000.
Tech's defense forced three fumbles in the first half from a team that had not fumbled all year, and their offense had one touchdown drive in them against a Clemson team that lost to Miami and Boston College in overtime. It was enough.
The Jackets improved to 5-2, 4-2 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, and will have four shots next month to become bowl-eligible for the ninth straight year.
Tech coach Chan Gailey gave his defense credit for holding the Tigers out of the end zone, something no other team had done in more than two years.
"To hold that crew to three field goals, that was impressive," Gailey said. "They were running the football, they were pounding us, and our guys found a way."
Defensive end Eric Henderson returned after four weeks out with a high ankle sprain, and showed why Tech missed him so badly. Henderson sacked Clemson quarterback Charlie Whitehurst twice, forcing fumbles both times that Tech recovered.
Cornerback Kenny Scott was the other big defensive hero, breaking up one sure touchdown pass and blanketing Clemson receivers on deep routes. Scott made the biggest hit of the day -- perhaps his career -- late in the game on 4th-and-7 from the Tech 38. Scott is known as a speedy cover man but not a big hitter. But when Curtis Baham caught a short sideline pass, Scott busted him between the numbers and out of bounds to give Tech the ball on downs with a little over two minutes left.
"He was awesome," Gailey said. "If he will continue to improve, he has the chance to be one of the best corner backs in the nation."
Tech certainly needed the defensive performance. Clemson moved the ball effectively by passing in the first half, and on the ground via Reggie Merriweather (23 carries, 128 yards) in the second.
Tech converted three Clemson fumbles into only three points in the first half, with quarterback Reggie Ball fumbling away their best chance at a touchdown inside Clemson's 10. The Jackets were guilty of a rash of niggling penalties, including four offsides penalties by the defense, who were apparently fooled by jerky movements by Clemson's motion backs.
Those kept Clemson drives alive, but a delay of game penalty took an apparent 42-yard field goal by Travis Bell off the board. And Bell missed his sixth straight on the ensuing 47-yard attempt.
But penalties helped Tech as much as they hurt, as the Tigers had a touchdown pass waved off when they were flagged for having 12 players on the field.
Ball, who threw an interception in the second quarter, and P. J. Daniels picked up their play in the second half. In the fourth quarter, Ball finally hit Calvin Johnson on a 21-yard pass, and Tashard Choice followed with a sweep left. Choice undressed a defender in the Tech backfield with a hip fake, and flashed down the left sideline for 32 yards.
Daniels and Choice alternated speed and power, with Daniels bulling in from the three on second-and-goal.
Daniels finished with 100 yards on 21 carries. The former walk-on passed 3,000 yards for his career, fourth all-time at Tech, and moved into sole possession of third in rushing touchdowns with 23, behind only Robert Lavette (45) and Joe Burns (31).
Clemson dropped to 4-4, 2-4. Coach Tommy Bowden said he'd normally have been pleased to hold Tech to 10 points, but he'd expect to score at least one touchdown while doing it.
"If you play like that defensively, if you play halfway decent offensively, you'll win some games, which we didn't do, Bowden said. "We just didn't give [the defense] any help."