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Clemson cruises past Virginia, 62-17, to win fifth straight ACC Championship

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Lawrence, Higgins, and the Tigers prove too much for Cavaliers

ACC Football Championship - Clemson v Virginia Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The Clemson Tigers beat the Virginia Cavaliers, 62 to 17, to capture the Tigers’ fifth straight ACC Championship.

Trevor Lawrence set an ACC Championship Game record with four touchdown passes—three of them to Tee Higgins—on 16-of-22 passing for 302 yards. Higgins had nine grabs for 182 yards and the aforementioned three touchdowns.

For Virginia, Bryce Perkins was the offense, with 324 of UVA’s 387 total yards: 266 passing and 58 rushing, with two touchdown passes and two interceptions. Wide receivers Hasise Dubois and Billy Kemp each set career highs for receptions, with 10 and 9, respectively; Dubois logged 130 yards and a score, while Kemp put up 66 yards. Wayne Taulapapa led non-Perkins rushers with 43 yards

Virginia’s first drive sparked the hint of intrigue as Perkins connected with Hasise Dubois for a 46-yard completion. But a Perkins interception gave the ball to Trevor Lawrence, who connected with Tee Higgins’ on a 19-yard catch-and-run touchdown capping a five-play, 80-yard drive that took less than a minute and a half.

But Virginia responded with a touchdown drive of its own—more methodical, fewer chunk plays, but worth 7 points just the same—with Perkins hitting Dubois for the tying score.

The track meet continued for Clemson with a Lawrence-to-Justyn-Ross touchdown from 59 yards out. Virginia drove the ball back into Clemson territory on its subsequent drive, but Billy Kemp slipped trying to snag Perkins’ third-down throw and Nash Griffin punted the ball back to Clemson.

The first quarter ended with Nick Grant breaking up a Lawrence pass, only for Higgins to snag the ricochet from mid-air, break three tackles, and sprint 38 yards to the Virginia 40.

A drop and a deflected second-down pass put Clemson in third-and-long, and Virginia’s aggressive blitzers got home for their second sack of Lawrence. On 4th and 18, B.T. Potter shanked a 52-yard attempt—but Dabo Swinney called a timeout before the snap. On 4th and 18, B.T. Potter missed a 52-yard attempt—but Virginia was offsides. On 4th and 18 (yes it felt like this to watch, too), B.T. Potter nailed a 47-yard field goal and stretched Clemson’s lead to double digits for the first time. This apparently put Potter on the nice list.

One Perkins scramble secured a first down before Virginia punted again, which was followed by Tee Higgins doing this:

The next play, Travis Etienne ran through three tackles for a 26-yard touchdown to make the score 24-7. A Virginia drive sputtered and the Hoos’ defense forced a few third downs the next drive, but the 12th play of the Clemson drive ended up being a 7-yard touchdown to Higgins; 31-7, Tigers.

That’s where the score stood at halftime. In just two quarters, Lawrence was 12-of-15 for 235 yards and 3 touchdowns passing, plus another 24 yards on the ground. Higgins caught 7 of those passes, 117 of those yards, and two of the touchdowns. Etienne averaged eight yards per carry and added a touchdown of his own.

Perkins was nearly the entire Virginia offense: 141 yards on 14-of-24 passing, and 10 carries for 39 yards.

Despite the daunting deficit, Virginia came out hot in the second half. Clemson punted to end their first drive, then a long Virginia drive—aided by a nifty Dubois catch over two defenders—finished with Terrell Jana diving into the end zone from eight yards out. Brian Delaney’s PAT made it 31-14.

Clemson answered and went up 38-14 with another Lawrence-to-Higgins touchdown, this one an 11-yard connection that came on the heels of a 54-yard shot to Higgins two plays prior. The score gave Lawrence the ACC Championship Game record.

On Virginia’s next drive, a designed quarterback end-around ended with Bryce Perkins appearing to clutch his knee or ankle in pain. Brennan Armstrong fumbled the next carry but fell on the ball; Perkins came back in immediately. Fourth down saw Nash Griffin complete a fake punt pass to Hayden Mitchell, who was stopped short of the line to gain.

Clemson, up 24 points in the third quarter with no sign of having trouble moving the ball, attempted a double-reverse pass before Lyn-J Dixon rushed for a 23-yard score to go up 45-14. That 31-point margin held as the teams headed to the final stanza.

Virginia’s 304 yards through three quarters made the Cavaliers the first team since Alabama in last year’s national championship game to put up 300-plus yards on Clemson.

Delaney opened the scoring in the fourth with a 35-yard field goal, bringing UVA to 17 points. During the drive, Perkins set the all-time single-season passing record, breaking Kurt Benkert’s mark set in 2017.

Chase Brice replaced Lawrence under center when Clemson came out for their first possession of the fourth quarter. Brice connected with Frank Ladson, Jr., on a 57-yard completion to get Clemson inside Virginia’s ten, but the UVA defense stiffened and held the Tigers to another Potter field goal and a 48-17 lead.

The following Cavalier drive ended with an interception as Perkins appeared to not see Isaiah Simmons drop into coverage. Brice scored on a four-yard keeper to stretch the lead to 55-17. Chez Mellusi capped the scoring with a 4-yard run, giving Clemson a 62-17 lead. Brennan Armstrong came in for the final drive, with an errant throw leading to a Clemson INT to end the game.

Virginia finishes its pre-bowl season at 9-4. The Hoos’ bowl fate will be decided on Sunday at about 3:00 PM, when the College Football Playoff committee announces selections for the Orange Bowl.