WATSON LEADS CLEMSON TO TITLE
Heisman hopeful QB Watson accounts for five touchdowns
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.
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.