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.

Florida QB Kitna leaves jail as child porn details emerge

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Florida backup quarterback Jalen Kitna was released from jail on $80,000 bond on Thursday, a day after he was arrested on five child pornography charges that police said included images of a man having sex with a young girl.

Judge Meshon Rawls set the bond and as conditions for Kitna’s release ordered him not to have any unsupervised contact with minors and not to have any internet access.

Kitna sobbed into his hands when his parents, including former NFL quarterback Jon Kitna, address the court during a 75-minute appearance. Jalen Kitna was at the Alachua County Jail and on a closed-circuit feed when Jon and Jennifer Kitna stepped to a podium in the courtroom and promised they would supervise their 19-year-old son back home in Burleson, Texas.

Jon Kitna tapped his feet repeatedly and held hands with Jennifer throughout their son’s first court appearance. Jalen Kitna donned a green smock – different from the striped pants and tops other inmates wear – typically given to those being kept under close watch because of concerns about their welfare. His booking photo showed him in normal jailhouse attire.

“He’s got a great family. He’s got good family support. He’s going to be well taken care of,” one of Kitna’s attorneys, Caleb Kenyon, said outside the courthouse.

The Gainesville Police Department released Kitna’s arrest report Thursday, providing graphic details about the complaints filed against the now-suspended football player.

The investigation began in June with a tip from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children into images of child pornography being shared on the social media platform Discord. The investigation led authorities to Kitna.

Kitna shared two images of a pubescent girl, police said in the report, adding that the phrase “so young junior” was written on both pictures. Kitna told a detective he thought they were legal because he found them online.

When police searched Kitna’s phone, they found three more images of two nude pubescent girls in the shower, according to the report. Those three images were saved to his cellphone last December, police said. The report did not estimate the ages of the girls.

Kenyon, the attorney, argued that Kitna should be released with no monetary bond and suggested that those three images could be considered child erotica instead of child porn.

Kitna also told police he had been in other messaging groups on at least one other social media platform that distributed similar material, according to the arrest report.

Discord had previously deactivated Kitna’s account because of a violation of the terms of service, police said.

“Discord has a zero-tolerance policy for child sexual abuse, which does not have a place on our platform or anywhere in society,” a Discord spokesperson said in a statement released to The Associated Press. “We work relentlessly to find and remove this abhorrent content and take action including banning the users responsible and engaging with the proper authorities.”

Two of the five arresting charges, which still need to be formalized by the state attorney’s office, are second-degree felonies that could result in a prison term of up to 15 years and a fine of up to $10,000. The other three are third-degree felonies.

Kitna also is being represented by Gainesville attorney Ron Kozlowski as well as noted Jacksonville attorney Hank Coxe, who has a history of taking on cases involving high-profile athletes.

Kitna appeared in four games as a redshirt freshman for the Gators this season. He completed 10 of his 14 passes for 181 yards and a touchdown.

Jon Kitna played 14 seasons in the NFL with Seattle, Cincinnati, Detroit and Dallas. He started 124 games and now is a high school coach in Burleson, just south of Fort Worth.

Georgia Tech’s Brent Key says 3 assistants will not return in 2023

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
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ATLANTA — Newly named Georgia Tech coach Brent Key announced that three assistant coaches will not return next season.

Key said offensive coordinator and tight ends coach Chip Long, wide receivers coach Del Alexander and strength and conditioning coach Lewis Caralla will not return.

Key was Georgia Tech’s interim coach before he was promoted to the full-time position.

Key had been assistant head coach, run game coordinator and offensive line coach before Geoff Collins was fired on Sept. 26. Following a 1-3 start under Collins, the Yellow Jackets were 4-4 under Key for a 5-7 finish.