WAT­SON LEADS CLEM­SON TO TI­TLE

Heis­man hope­ful QB Wat­son ac­counts for five touch­downs

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Fred Goodall

De­shaun Wat­son passed for three touch­downs and ran for two more, lead­ing No. 3 Clem­son to a 42-35 vic­tory over No. 19 Vir­ginia Tech in the ACC cham­pi­onship game.

or­lando, fla.» De­shaun Wat­son bol­stered his Heis­man Tro­phy can­di­dacy by pass­ing for three touch­downs and run­ning for two more to lead third-ranked Clem­son to a 42-35 vic­tory over No. 19 Vir­ginia Tech in the At­lantic Coast Con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship game on Satur­day night.

Win­ning con­sec­u­tive league ti­tles for the first time in 28 years likely will send the Tigers (12-1, No. 3 CFP) back to the four-team Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off for the sec­ond straight year, pro­vid­ing Wat­son with an op­por­tu­nity to re­solve un­fin­ished busi­ness from last Jan­uary, when his team lost to Alabama in the na­tional cham­pi­onship game.

The Clem­son star com­pleted 23-of-34 passes for 288 yards, in­clud­ing TDs of 21 and 10 yards to Jor­dan Leggett and 15 yards to Hunter Ren­frow for a 42-28 lead mid­way through the fourth quar­ter. He also rushed for 85 yards on 17 at­tempts for the Tigers, who’ve won back-to-back ACC ti­tles for the first time since win­ning three straight from 1986-88.

Wat­son’s Vir­ginia Tech coun­ter­part, Jerod Evans, was just as im­pres­sive. The 6foot-3, 238-pound ran for two touch­downs and ral­lied the Hok­ies from a 21-point deficit to make it close at the end.

The Hok­ies (9-4, No. 23 CFP) scored on three straight pos­ses­sions, trim­ming what was once a 35-14 deficit to seven points on Evans’ 5-yard run early in the fourth quar­ter and Cam Phillips’ 26-yard TD re­cep­tion with just un­der six min­utes re­main­ing.

Vir­ginia Tech got the ball back with a chance to force over­time. Evans drove his team to the Clem­son 23, where they stalled when Tigers corner­back Cor­drea Tanker­s­ley in­ter­cepted a pass on fourth-and-6.

It’s been a year-long quest to get back to the play­off, and the Tigers sur­vived ev­ery test with the ex­cep­tion of a 43-42 loss to Pitts­burgh in early Novem­ber — a game in which the Tigers turned the ball over three times but still came within a fourth-and-1 con­ver­sion of win­ning. Wat­son was over­shad­owed early in the sea­son by ACC player of the year La­mar Jack­son from Louisville, how­ever the Clem­son quar­ter­back’s per­for­mance Satur­day night added to the ster­ling re­sume he’s put to­gether for Heis­man Tro­phy con­sid­er­a­tion.

Vir­ginia Tech coach Justin Fuente and his play­ers were de­ter­mined to make the most of the Hok­ies’ first ap­pear­ance in the ti­tle game in five years. And for a half, they kept it close, weath­er­ing Clem­son scor­ing on its first three pos­ses­sions to build a 21-7 lead. Even af­ter be­ing out­gained 148 yards to mi­nus-14 while fall­ing be­hind by three TDs in the first 10 min­utes of the third quar­ter, Evans ral­lied his team to make a game of it in the fourth quar­ter.

Wil­lie J. Allen Jr., AP

Clem­son quar­ter­back De­shaun Wat­son cel­e­brates his touch­down dur­ing the sec­ond half of the At­lantic Coast Con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship against Vir­ginia Tech on Satur­day in Or­lando, Fla.

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