For most of the day Saturday, No. 3 Clemson did not look the part of a College Football Playoff contender.
But despite sloppy play, red-zone mishaps, four turnovers, ill-timed fourth-quarter penalties — and thanks to a lucky break when N.C. State's Kyle Bambard missed a field goal that would have beaten them at the end of regulation — the Tigers managed to hold off North Carolina State at home 24-17 in overtime to move to 7-0 overall and 4-0 in the ACC.
“There’s something to be said for finding a way to win,” head coach Dabo Swinney said. “And there’s something to be said for knowing how to win.”
Deshaun Watson was strong for the Tigers, 39-for-52 passing for 378 yards and two touchdowns, including an overtime score, a 10-yard TD pass to Artavis Scott. But he also tossed an interception that went for a North Carolina State touchdown. Running back Matt Dayes (106 rushing yards) led the Wolfpack attack.
The Wolfpack (4-2, 1-1) were a 33-yard field goal away at the end of regulation from quashing Clemson’s perfect start. Instead, Bambard pushed the kick right and sent most of the 82,104 at Death Valley into hysterics.
“I kind of looked up and I saw it started to sail, then I closed my eyes because I couldn’t believe it was actually happening,” Clemson defensive end Christian Wilkins said. “I waited for the crowd to cheer. They messed up because they gave us another chance.”
Given new life, Clemson responded like defending ACC champions. The Tigers converted a fourth-and-1 to keep their overtime the drive going, and then Deshaun Watson connected with Artavis Scott on a go-ahead 10-yard TD pass. Marcus Edmond intercepted Wolfpack quarterback Ryan Finley’s deep thrown into the end zone to keep the Tigers undefeated and on track for the league title game and the College Football Playoff.
The Tigers sealed the victory when Marcus Edmond intercepted Ryan Finley's pass in the end zone. With the narrow escape, Clemson's path to the ACC title game and the College Football Playoffs still are all clear.
When you grab the game winning INT 😎 pic.twitter.com/8qbw0KfymT— ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) October 15, 2016
Clemson took a big hit early on when running back Wayne Gallman came out, looking woozy and out of it as he headed to the locker room. Gallman, the team’s leading rusher, did not return.
Receiver Hunter Renfrow, who had six catches in his first game since Sept. 10 because of a broken hand, was hurt in the fourth quarter and came out the rest of the way.
North Carolina State: The Wolfpack look like a team on the rise, one of the few the past two season that has been able to take the Tigers down to the wire.
Clemson: The Tigers have been clutch, but can they keep winning with all these turnovers? They are up to 16 on the season. Clemson had 27 (which is a lot) last season and reached the national championship game.
Don’t be surprised to see the Tigers slip a notch or two when the new Top 25 comes out Sunday.
The Tigers are 7-0 for a second consecutive season and third time since 2011. They’ve also won 21 straight regular-season games dating to 2014 and 20 consecutive home games counting back to a 51-14 Death Valley loss to Florida State in 2013.
Bambard also had a kick hit the upright and another blocked by Wilkins. The sophomore kickers had missed only one kick this season — and that came in last week’s hurricane conditions against Notre Dame — before coming to Clemson.
“I haven’t seen him yet,” North Carolina State coach Dave Doeren said of Bambard. “But I will. I’ll encourage him.”
North Carolina State: The Wolfpack head to No. 7 Louisville where they are 0-3 all time, including a 30-18 defeat two years ago.
Clemson: The Tigers get the week off before traveling to No. 14 Florida State on Oct. 29. Clemson has won just once (2006) in its past 12 visits to Tallahassee.
Contributing: The Associated Press