No. 17 Pitt rolls by No. 18 Wake Forest 45-21 for ACC title

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Kenny Pickett accounted for three touchdowns and Erick Hallett II returned one of Pittsburgh’s four interceptions for a touchdown to help the No. 17 Panthers beat No. 18 Wake Forest 45-21 in Saturday night’s Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.

Hallett, selected the game’s MVP, had a pick-six with 11:42 left that came on the heels of A.J. Woods having a 75-yard interception return that fell only 3 yards short of taking it all the way for the score early in the fourth quarter. That was the highlight sequence in a strong defensive performance that locked up the high-scoring Demon Deacons after the opening quarter and ultimately carried the Panthers to their first ACC title since leaving the Big East in 2013.

After surrendering touchdowns on three first-quarter possessions, Pittsburgh (11-2) held Wake Forest scoreless for its last 13 drives while getting after Sam Hartman for five sacks to stymie the Demon Deacons’ tempo-controlling flow.

Wake Forest (10-3) was back in the ACC title game for the first time since winning the 2006 championship. But the Demon Deacons finished with 295 total yards, with only 109 of those coming after the opening quarter.

Hartman threw for two scores and ran for another in the opening period. But by the end of this one, Hartman was suffering through another nightmarish performance on a field about 20 minutes from his hometown in Cornelius.

He ended last year here with four interceptions in a Duke’s Mayo Bowl loss to Wisconsin, then threw for 213 yards in another four-interception performance before exiting with 8:09 left.

The third was Woods’ long return that had him weaving all over the field before being stopped inside the 5 for the longest interception return in the 17-year history of the title game to set up a short TD by Israel Abanikanda.

And on the next offensive snap, Hallett jumped in front of Hartman’s pass for Jaquarii Roberson and sprinted for the 19-yard return – extending the ball with his right arm as he crossed the goal line – and a 45-21 lead that all but wrapped up the title for Narduzzi’s Panthers.

The game offered a departure from what had become a recent tradition: watching Clemson roll past an overmatched Coastal Division champion on the way to another league title and trip to the College Football Playoff. And going back a decade, either Clemson or Florida State had been in this game as the Atlantic Division champion before Wake Forest finally interrupted that run this year.

This game began with a high-revving show of four straight touchdown drives between the two teams, including a dazzling 58-yard scoring run by Pickett on the first in which he stutter-stepped near the 40 as though he was going to slide then took off around pulling-up defenders the rest of the way to the end zone.

Wake Forest led 21-14 when Hartman hit Taylor Morin on a contested TD catch near the left pylon. But after that, Pittsburgh’s defense started getting to Hartman more often while the secondary that found itself under early duress began to hold up against those deep throws.

Sam Scarton’s 41-yard field goal gave Pitt a 24-21 lead at the break, then Abanikanda scored from 12 yards out around the right side late in the third to make it a two-possession lead and send the Panthers on their way.

THE TAKEAWAY

Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons just couldn’t add another milestone in a what had become a special season full of them under eighth-year coach Dave Clawson, including the highest AP Top 25 ranking in program history (No. 10 in early November) and the program’s best-ever start (8-0).

Pittsburgh: The Panthers had reached the ACC title game in 2018 before losing a blowout loss to Clemson. They’re leaving Charlotte this time with the program’s first ACC title after sharing the Big East title in 2004 and 2010.

UP NEXT

Both programs must wait to learn where they will play a bowl game.

No. 2 Michigan beats Purdue 43-22 for Big Ten crown

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
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INDIANAPOLIS – Donovan Edwards ran for 185 yards and a score, J.J. McCarthy threw three touchdown passes and No. 2 Michigan beat Purdue 43-22 on Saturday night for its second straight Big Ten title and a likely No. 2 playoff seed.

College football’s winningest program has the first 13-win season in school history. Two more victories would give the Wolverines (13-0, No. 2 CFP) their first national championship since 1997.

And with injured star Blake Corum sidelined by a season-ending left knee injury, Edwards stole the show for the second straight week.

After shredding rival Ohio State for 216 yards and two scores last week, Edwards broke open this game with a 60-yard on the first play of the second half to set up one score. He added a 27-yard TD sprint on Michigan’s next series to make it 28-13.

Purdue (8-5) never recovered from Michigan’s quick, seven-play onslaught after it trailed 14-13 at halftime.

But quarterback Aidan O'Connell and receiver Charlie Jones helped the Boilermakers make it interesting for a while.

O’Connell was 32 of 47 with 366 yards and two interceptions after missing some practice time early this week to mourn the death of his oldest brother. Jones, who lost to Michigan in last year’s game while playing for Iowa, had 13 receptions for 162 yards.

It just wasn’t enough.

Michigan showed no signs of a hangover after last week’s rout over the Buckeyes, taking a 7-0 lead on its opening possession with a 25-yard TD pass from J.J. McCarthy to Colston Loveland.

Purdue answered with Devin Mockobee’s 1-yard scoring run to tie the score then took the lead on Mitchell Fineran’s 33-yard field goal.

Michigan answered by taking advantage of an offside call on fourth-and-6 by going for the first down, picking it up and eventually converting the drive into a 7-yard TD pass from McCarthy to Luke Schoonmaker. They never trailed again.

Edwards big run set up Kalel Mullings‘ 1-yard TD plunge before Edwards celebrated his own scoring run.

All Purdue could muster was three more field goals.

McCarthy was 11 of 17 with 161 yards and one interception.

Corum posted a message on Twitter on Saturday morning to say his knee surgery went well.

THE TAKEAWAY

Purdue: The Boilermakers’ magical season ended with a solid showing in the championship game where they played better than most expected. Still, they won the Big Ten’s wild, wild West, both trophy games and should be bound for a warm-weather bowl game.

Michigan: Yes, the Wolverines may have already locked up a top-two seed thanks to losses by Southern Cal and TCU. Michigan now has back-to-back conference crowns for the first time since 2003-04 though the hard part remains – ending its national title drought.

DIALING UP TRICKERY

Brohm played one season in the now defunct XFL and has acknowledged that experience helped him understand how to inject personality and creativity into play calling. It was on full display Saturday.

A surprise end around set up Purdue’s first score, a fake punt helped keep its second scoring drive alive and then Mockobee sprinted 25 yards on a fake flea-flicker in the third quarter.

UP NEXT

Purdue: Will find out its bowl game, destination and opponent Sunday.

Michigan: Waiting to see where its headed and who it will face in the national semifinals.

Klubnik, No. 10 Clemson rout No. 24 UNC 39-10 for ACC title

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Backup quarterback Cade Klubnik completed 20 of 24 passes for 279 yards and a touchdown and ran for another score and No. 10 Clemson reclaimed the Atlantic Coast Conference championship with a 39-10 victory over No. 24 North Carolina on Saturday night.

Cornerback Nate Wiggins broke up two passes in the end zone, blocked a field goal and returned an interception 98 yards for a touchdown to help the Tigers win their seventh ACC title in eight seasons.

Clemson (11-2, No. 9 CFP) won six straight ACC championships from 2015 to 2020 before failing to reach the title game last season. But coach Dabo Swinney‘s Tigers rebounded in a big way, going 9-0 against ACC foes this season to reach the Orange Bowl.

They have Klubnik to thank for that.

With Clemson down 7-0, Swinney benched two-year starter D.J. Uiagalelei after the Tigers failed to pick up a first down on their first two possessions, Swinney turned to Klubnik, a 5-star recruit from Austin, Texas. He responded by leading the Tigers to four straight scores and a 24-10 lead at halftime.

Clemson stretched it to 39-10 heading into the fourth quarter.

It wasn’t the first time Swinney has turned to Klubnik.

He benched Uiagalelei in the second half against Syracuse and Klubnik responded by leading the Tigers to a come-from-behind 27-21 victory. Swinney also turned to Klubnik against Notre Dame, although the results were the opposite with the freshman throwing a Pick 6 in a 35-14 loss.

Swinney has never been shy about replacing veteran QBs with less experienced players. He did it in 2014, sitting Cole Stoudt for Deshaun Watson, and again in 2018 replacing Kelly Bryant with Trevor Lawrence.

ACC player of the year Drake Maye was limited to 268 yards passing and turned the ball over three times for North Carolina (9-4, No. 23 CFP), which was seeking its first ACC championship since 1980 when Lawrence Taylor was wreaking havoc on quarterbacks.

Maye got things started on the right foot for the Tar Heels, capping an 11-play, 78-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown run for a 7-0 lead on UNC’s first possession.

But the Tar Heels repeatedly sputtered on offense inside the red zone after that, the biggest blow coming when Maye misfired near the goal line and Wiggins – who had struggled in Clemson’s 51-45 win over Wake Forest – returned his pass for a touchdown to give Clemson a 32-10 lead with 5:05 left in the third quarter.

Klubnik provided an immediate spark for Clemson.

He led the Tigers on a nine-play, 71-yard drive, culminating in a 1-yard TD pass to Davis Allen. After Maye’s fumble, Klubnik caught a 19-yard pass from Phil Mafah to set up Mafah’s 4-yard touchdown run – Clemson’s second TD in a span of 40 seconds.

Klubnik then showed off his arm strength with a 68-yard pass to fellow freshman Cole Turner to set up his own 1-yard TD run for a 21-7 lead.

END OF AN ERA

This is the final year the ACC will feature its two division winners playing for a championship. In future years, all ACC teams will be lumped together and the two teams with the best records will advance to the title game.

THE TAKEAWAY

North Carolina: Maye garnered plenty of Heisman Trophy talk during the season, but the Tar Heels offense has stalled resulting in a three-game losing streak. But as long as Maye doesn’t transfer – and there are no indications he will given his family history at North Carolina – the Tar Heels have a good chance to get back to the ACC title game next season.

Clemson: The Tigers have set a high bar by winning national championships, so as much as they will enjoy getting back atop the ACC mountain there will be plenty of talk over whether Swinney cost his team a chance at a spot in the College Football Playoff by not turning to Klubnik at quarterback earlier in the season. It seems Uiagalelei might be a logical transfer portal candidate.

UP NEXT

Clemson will play in the Orange Bowl, while North Carolina awaits a bowl bid.