As time expired in the third quarter, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney was yelling, ‘Let’s finish this!’ Unfortunately, that proved easier said than done. A fumble on the next play gave Syracuse new life, and the fight was on.
An interception and late touchdown by Phil Mafah finished off the Orange’s Homecoming hopes as Clemson held on to win 31-14 at the JMA Wireless Dome Saturday afternoon. Clemson improved to 3-2 overall and 1-2 in the ACC, while Syracuse fell to 4-1 and 0-1.
With the win, Swinney joined Florida State’s Bobby Bowden as the only coach in the ACC to win 100 regular season ACC conference games as head coach. Swinney also tied Frank Howard for the Clemson record for most regular season conference wins (Southern Conference & ACC).
Clemson finished the day with 389 yards of total offense – 263 through the air and 126 rushing. Syracuse had just 286 yards of total offense. Quarterback Cade Klubnik was 23-for-37 for 263 yards and two touchdowns. Will Shipley had 18 carries for 61 yards and a score. Freshman wideout Tyler Brown had eight catches for 151 yards.
Clemson controlled the first half, scoring the game’s first 14 points – on a Troy Stellato touchdown catch and a run by Shipley. Both touchdowns came after Syracuse turnovers – a sack and forced fumble by Justin Mascoll and a recovery on a backward pass by Xavier Thomas. Syracuse tight end Dan Villari took over a drive late in the first quarter, leading to the Orange’s first and only points until the fourth quarter. Clemson added a score a 47-yard touchdown reception by Beaux Collins to make it a 21-7 Tigers advantage at the half.
After missing a field goal attempt late in the first half, Clemson kicker Jonathan Weitz nailed a 38-yard attempt to make it 24-7 Clemson early in the third quarter.
The teams traded possessions for much of the second half until Jake Briningstool fumbled after a short reception on the opening play of the fourth quarter. Syracuse marched down the field and scored to make it 24-14 with 12:23 to play. Jeremiah Trotter, Jr. intercepted the ball on Syracuse’s next possession, and Phil Mafah made them play with a 32-yard touchdown run to put the Tigers back up 31-14 with 6:38 to play.
Clemson returns to Death Valley to host Wake Forest next Saturday at 3:30.
Story by Nikki Hood