No. 15 UNC tops Wake Forest to secure ACC title-game spot

Wake Forest v North Carolina
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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – No. 15 North Carolina didn’t squander its first chance to clinch a trip to the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.

Noah Burnette kicked a 33-yard field goal with 2:12 left and UNC’s defense came up with key fourth-quarter stops to beat Wake Forest 36-34 on Saturday night, a win that claimed the league’s Coastal Division title.

The Tar Heels (9-1, 6-0) earned it with a road win in a marquee matchup of star quarterbacks Drake Maye of UNC and Sam Hartman of Wake Forest. And while the offenses had the edge all night, the Tar Heels’ defense pitched in at critical moments to keep them unbeaten in league play.

As a result, the Tar Heels’ locker-room celebration included ACC associate commissioner for football Michael Strickland coming in to present the team with the trophy for winning the Coastal. It even made its way to star receiver Josh Downs at one point as he talked with reporters afterward near the locker-room tunnel.

“They’ve really accomplished some amazing things and still have some things left,” UNC coach Mack Brown said. “I’ve talked to them for a couple of weeks about not talking about the Coastal (scenarios). I didn’t want to back in.

“I didn’t want somebody to have to lose. I didn’t want them looking at somebody losing. I wanted us to win, and the guys did that.”

The game-turning play came with the Tar Heels facing a one-point deficit and Wake Forest’s offense pushing across midfield. But Cam'Ron Kelly jumped in front of Hartman’s throw over the middle for an interception to set up the drive for Burnette’s go-ahead kick.

Then, the Tar Heels pressured Hartman into a fourth-down incompletion with 64 seconds left – a moment that had Tar Heels players skipping around the sideline in anticipation. The Tar Heels killed the rest of the clock to seal the program’s second trip to the ACC title game and first since 2015 – this one coming with Brown in his second tenure with the school.

Maye threw for 448 yards and three touchdowns, each going to Downs who continued his tear of late. Downs finished with 11 grabs for 154 yards, with all three of his scores coming before halftime.

Hartman threw for 320 yards and four touchdowns for Wake Forest (6-4, 2-4). Donavon Greene had two of those scores, including a 60-yarder late in the third quarter for a 34-33 lead.

“I’ll tell you guys what I told the team: I’m disappointed with the result, not at all with the effort,” coach Dave Clawson said. “Our guys played their hearts out. This one hurts, it stings.”

THE TAKEAWAY

UNC: The offense has led the way all season while the defense has largely struggled for consistency. But that unit came up big in key moments here, which also included a fourth-down stop inside its own 10-yard line earlier in the fourth. As a result, the Tar Heels improved to 6-0 on the road for the first time in program history and earned a date with No. 12 Clemson for the ACC title in Charlotte on Dec. 3.

Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons had pushed to the top 10 of the AP Top 25 before road losses at Syracuse and No. 17 North Carolina State. Those losses had featured protection problems for Hartman by surrendering 12 sacks. The Demon Deacons had committed 11 turnovers in the two games. They avoided most of those issues this time, though Hartman’s pick with 4:20 left proved critical as the game’s lone turnover.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

UNC seems likely to climb in Sunday’s new AP Top 25 poll after reaching 9-1 for the first time since last Coastal Division win in 2015.

KELLY’S PICK

Kelly’s pick came when he crossed from the left side of the field to the right to jump in front of Hartman’s throw for Greene.

“I was on the opposite of the field, I was just keying off the quarterback’s eyes,” Kelly said.

Clawson said the throw was “a fraction of a second late.”

UP NEXT

UNC: The Tar Heels return home to host Georgia Tech next Saturday.

Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons host Syracuse in their home finale next Saturday.

No. 5 Clemson hangs on, tops No. 21 Wake Forest 51-45 in 2OT

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Nate Wiggins broke up Sam Hartman‘s fourth-down pass in the end zone to help No. 5 Clemson hold off No. 21 Wake Forest 51-45 in double overtime on Saturday.

Wiggins had been targeted frequently by Hartman and the Wake Forest receivers but came through to knock away Hartman’s final ball for A.T. Perry. He fell to the end zone turf, then sprung up to join his team in celebration after a wild shootout between the reigning Atlantic Coast Conference’s Atlantic Division Demon Deacons and the preseason league favorite Tigers.

D.J. Uiagalelei threw for 375 yards and five touchdowns to lead Clemson (4-0, 2-0 ACC), including the go-ahead score over the middle to Davis Allen to start the second overtime.

Hartman threw for 337 yards and a program-record six touchdowns for Wake Forest (3-1, 0-1), including two each to Jahmal Banks and Donavon Greene. But the Demon Deacons stalled out near midfield on a potential winning drive to end regulation, then couldn’t stop the Tigers in the first OT after starting off with Hartman’s TD throw to Perry.

It marked Clemson’s 14th straight win in the series, with Wake Forest’s last win coming in 2008 – which led to the ouster of Tommy Bowden as coach and current coach Dabo Swinney being named the interim.

THE TAKEAWAY

Clemson: This was the start of a two-week stretch that could give the Tigers control of the league’s Atlantic Division race. The Tigers took early control by scoring touchdowns on their first two drives to take a 14-0 lead, only to see the Demon Deacons’ high-scoring offense get rolling by pushing the ball downfield. On this day, Uiagalelei and the offense had to keep coming up with big plays to stay on pace – and they did – until Wiggins helped the Tigers come up with the clinching stop.

Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons have accomplished plenty under Dave Clawson, highlighted by last year’s push to tie the program record with 11 wins and reach the ACC championship game. But Clemson continues to bedevil them, with Wake Forest last winning in 2008 and only one of the previous 13 straight losses coming by fewer than 14 points. Wake Forest also fell to 1-65 all-time against teams ranked in the top 10 of The Associated Press college football poll, with the only win coming against No. 4 Tennessee in 1946.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Tigers are near the top of the AP Top 25 with little room to climb despite a tough road win. The Demon Deacons aren’t likely to slide much, if at all, after giving the Tigers all they could handle.

UP NEXT

Clemson: The Tigers host No. 12 North Carolina State next Saturday in another critical division game.

Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons travel to Florida State next Saturday.

Clemson back-to-back: No. 21 Wake Forest, then No. 12 NC State

Louisiana Tech v Clemson
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CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson’s opportunity to take control of the ACC’s Atlantic doesn’t get much clearer.

The fifth-ranked Tigers have the chance become the division’s clear favorite – or fall into a pack of contenders fighting things out for an Atlantic crown.

Clemson (3-0, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) faces the two other top division hopefuls, starting Saturday at No. 21 Wake Forest (3-0), the defending division champs who open league play this week.

Then comes a Clemson home game vs. No. 12 North Carolina State (3-0), which defeated the Tigers in 2021 for the first time in 10 years.

Sweep them both and – before October truly gets going – Clemson has separation and tiebreakers over the two teams voted mostly likely to thwart the Tigers’ drive back to a ACC title. A loss or two and the Tigers would have an steep hole to climb out to regain the league title it held from 2015 through 2020.

“If we want to get to where we want to be at the end of the season,” Clemson defensive end K.J. Henry says, “we’ve got to handle our business.”

Business for the Tigers has been very good in the past decade.

Clemson holds a 13-game win streak over Wake Forest and a 9-1 mark over North Carolina State. The lone defeat in that span was last season when the Wolfpack won at home, 27-21, in overtime.

The Demon Deacons’ last win against Clemson came in 2008, which led to the ouster of then-coach Tommy Bowden and the promotion of current Tigers coach Dabo Swinney as an interim choice.

Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson has long heard of all the teams his program couldn’t beat. He remembered losing five straight to Florida State and three in a row to N.C. State after arriving – but the Demon Deacons have won their past two against FSU and four of the past five over the Wolfpack.

“You could go through half the ACC and we had not beaten,” said Clawson, in his ninth season at Wake Forest. “Obviously in the Atlantic Division, this is the one we haven’t gotten yet. But there’s a lot of teams that haven’t got them because they haven’t lost a lot of games.”

Clemson knows what’s at stake and will keep the same mindset they’ve used in winning their last nine games, the longest streak among Power Five teams.

“We try and bring that juice every single week, every single day,” Clemson linebacker Jeremiah Trotter Jr. said. “We try and treat every week like it’s the biggest game of the year.”

For the next two weeks, it is.

Don’t count on complacency from the Tigers, offensive coordinator Brandon Streeter said. The Demon Deacons “are the reigning champs in our division and we have the opportunity to build off of this season and continue to gain confidence,” he said.

North Carolina State has already hit some bumps to start the season, even in a hype-filled year.

The Wolfpack started the season ranked 13th in the preseason AP poll, matching the program’s highest to start a season set in 1975, only to survive at East Carolina in Week 1 when the Pirates missed two critical late kicks.

Two games later, preseason ACC player of the year Devin Leary at quarterback and his offense had an inconsistent showing in a home win against Texas Tech, including having touchdowns negated by both a penalty and a goal-line turnover. But the defense with 10 returning starters dominated the game and kept the Wolfpack in control.

“We’re going to try to get better,” Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren said. “I think that’s what really good programs do. It doesn’t matter who you play, it’s how you play.”