Clemson vs. North Carolina score: Cade Klubnik leads Tigers to seventh ACC championship in eight years

Clemson vs. North Carolina score: Cade Klubnik leads Tigers to seventh ACC championship in eight years

No. 9 Clemson won’t compete for a national title this season, but returned to conference supremacy and earned a berth in the Orange Bowl with a 39-10 shellacking of No. 23 North Carolina in the ACC Championship Game. The win marks the Tigers’ seventh ACC crown in the past eight seasons and brings some redemption for Dabo Swinney’s program after failing to make the league title last season for the first time since 2014.

North Carolina jumped out to an early 7-0 lead, but it quickly faded when Clemson turned to freshman quarterback Cade Klubnik on its third possession. With junior starter DJ Uiagalelei proving ineffective, Klubnik stepped in and quickly turned the momentum in the Tigers’ favor with a 71-yard run. The former five-star prospect and successor to Uiagalelei completed 20 of 24 passes for 279 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions while also running for 30 yards and a score. Klubnik stayed on the field until third quarterback Hunter Johnson entered with the game out of control.

Klubnik’s counterpart, North Carolina’s Drake Maye, led the Tar Heels into the red zone five times, but those trips yielded just 10 points. A fumble and a blocked field goal hampered the Tar Heels in the first half, and a costly interception ruined their chances during the third quarter.

With the Tar Heels trailing just 24-10, Maye threw an ill-advised third-down pass that Clemson’s Nate Wiggins intercepted and returned 98 yards for a touchdown with 5:05 left in the third quarter. The play dashed UNC’s rally hopes and led to the Tar Heels’ third straight loss. At 9-4, North Carolina can still reach double figures for the second time since 1997 if it wins the bowl game.

Clemson has reached double-digit wins for the 12th straight season under Swinney and can finish 12-2 if it wins the Orange Bowl. Tennessee is his projected opponent for the game scheduled for December 30 in Miami. With such a strong win in the ACC Championship game, Clemson would have been in great shape to make the college playoffs if only they hadn’t lost to South Carolina last week. Barring a loss to the Gamecocks, which was Clemson’s first loss at home since 2016, the Tigers would have benefited immensely from this weekend’s losses to No. 3 TCU and No. 4 USC.

But a league title and a New Year’s Six bowl appearance are nothing to scoff at, especially after the programs lost longtime coordinators Tony Elliot (Virginia) and Brent Venables (Oklahoma) to head coaching gigs after the 2021 season.

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