CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Cade Klubnik threw for 219 yards and a touchdown and Clemson’s defense held high-scoring No. 22 UNC-Chapel Hill to its fewest points this season in a 31-20 victory Saturday night.
The revived Tigers (7-4, 4-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) won their third straight and beat a ranked opponent for the second time in that stretch following their 31-23 win over then-No. 12 Notre Dame on Nov. 4.
Excited fans, mostly students, twice rushed onto the field before the final seconds ticked off and drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. No matter, Clemson ran out the clock moments later the celebration was on in the season’s final home game.
UNC (8-3, 4-3) looked like it might reach its 40-point a game average in the first quarter when it put up 198 yards. But the usually sure-handed tailback Omarion Hampton — he had no fumbles this season — coughed up the ball twice close to the goal line to end drives.
Reigning ACC player of the year Drake Maye was 5 of 9 for 120 yards in the opening quarter. He was just 11 of 27 for 89 yards and an interception the rest of the way as the Tar Heels lost their sixth straight to Clemson.
Will Shipley, who had 126 yards rushing, had a 33-yard TD run and Phil Mafah scored from 3-yards out as Clemson opened a 28-14 lead in the third quarter.
The game changed for good on Hampton’s second fumble as he was steps away from completing a 64-yard scoring run when cornerback Nate Wiggins — considered an NFL first-rounder next spring — caught him and got the ball loose and it went out of bounds for a touchback.
Clemson followed with a 14-play scoring drive, ended on Klubnik’s 3-yard pass to tight end Jake Briningstool to tie things 7-all.
The Tigers defense clamped down after that, limiting the Tar Heels to 55 yards in the second quarter.
Clemson took the lead for good with an 11-play scoring drive. Klubnik’s interception in the end zone was wiped out by a roughing the passer call on linebacker Cedric Gray. Then Klubnik stretched the ball out just enough with 3 seconds to go for a 3-yard score.
The score stood up under review to put Clemson up for good, 14-7.
ACC leading rusher Hampton had 178 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including one of 55 yards.
North Carolina: The Tar Heels may have lost some motivation early in this one when Louisville’s 38-31 victory at Miami went final during their opening drive to clinch the last open spot in the ACC title game. North Carolina needed a loss by the Cardinals and a victory over Clemson for any chance at the league title.
Clemson: The Tigers have gotten the better of North Carolina and quarterback Drake Maye the past year. They intercepted Maye twice including a 98-yard pick six in the 39-10 win in last year’s ACC championship game. Maye was pressured throughout and sacked four times.
North Carolina finishes the regular season at rival North Carolina State on Saturday.
Clemson goes to rival South Carolina on Saturday night to close the regular season.