Records Fall: Clemson Notches Fifth Straight ACC Championship, Fifth Straight Playoff Berth
CHARLOTTE — The No.3 Clemson Tigers took care of business in dominant fashion en route to their fifth straight ACC Championship by a final score of 62–17 over the Virginia Cavaliers Saturday night at Bank of America Stadium.
With the victory, the Tigers assured themselves a spot in the top 4 of the College Football Playoff final rankings, and a spot in the semifinals for a fifth straight season.
The Cavaliers took the opening drive of the game and moved the ball to the Clemson 12-yard line, all on the arm and legs of quarterback Bryce Perkins. However, the drive ended on Nolan Turner's interception of Perkins' pass in the end zone.
The Tigers took over at their own 20-yard line, and opened the game with the same red-hot offense that has been the norm over the last seven games. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence started the game 4-of-4 on the Tigers' opening drive of the game that included a 19-yard touchdown pass to Tee Higgins.
Lawrence’s 19-yard touchdown strike to Higgins was his third touchdown pass in his two ACC Championship Game appearances. All three of those scoring tosses went to Higgins, as the duo teamed up for 5- and 10-yard touchdown plays in last year’s 42–10 win over Pitt.
Virginia answered with surprising ease on their second drive, as Perkins once again led the Cavaliers down the field and capped off the 12-play, 78-yard drive with a 20-yard touchdown pass to Hasise Dubois that tied the game 7–7.
That scoring drive marked the first touchdown the Tigers had given up in the first quarter of a game since their 21–20 win at North Carolina the last week of September.
Clemson answered the score in a massive way, as they outscored the Cavaliers 24–0 in the remainder of the first half. Lawrence found Justyn Ross for a 59-yard touchdown, making it the second-longest pass in ACC championship game history.
Following Lawrence's second touchdown pass of the night and a 47-yard field goal by B.T. Potter, running back Travis Etienne broke free for a 26-yard touchdown run before Lawrence went back to work.
Lawrence found Higgins for the second time, this time a 7-yard strike that extended the lead to 31–7, in the opening half to end the scoring.
Lawrence closed the first half 12-of-15 passing for 235 yards and two touchdowns for a passing rating of 277.6. Lawrence’s three touchdowns passes in the opening half tied the ACC championship record for a full game, as did Higgins’ two touchdown receptions.
Clemson’s 31 points set an ACC championship game record for points scored in a first half, breaking the previous mark of 28 first set by Florida State versus Georgia Tech in 2014 and matched by the Tigers versus Pitt last year.
Following the Tigers' first punt of the game, the Cavaliers found the end zone for the second time. Perkins found Terrell Jana for his second passing touchdown of the game and cut the lead to 31–14.
The Tigers wasted little time answering the scoring drive. Following rushes of 9 and 8 yards by Etienne, Lawrence found Higgins for a 54-yard completion, and two plays later Higgins caught his third touchdown of the game that gave the Tigers a 45–14 lead.
Lawrence set an ACC record with four passing touchdowns in the championship game, but was not the only Tiger to have a record-setting night.
Lawrence tied his own single-season school record of 169 consecutive pass attempts without an interception, set last season. Tajh Boyd holds Clemson's multi-season record of 187 across 2012–13.
With his 27th career receiving touchdown, Higgins tied for the school record for career receiving touchdowns. His three receiving touchdowns set a new ACC championship record and his 182 yards receiving in the game also set a new championship record.
Virginia added a field goal that cut the lead to 45–17. But the Tigers answered, as backup quarterback Chase Brice found Frank Ladson Jr. for a 57-yard gain to the Virginia 7. However, the Tigers were forced to settle for a Potter field goal that gave them a 48–17 lead.
The Tigers were not finished. On Virginia's ensuing drive, Perkins pass attempt was intercepted by Isaiah Simmons, who returned the interception to the Virginia 15-yard line. A penalty gave Clemson the ball at the 7-yard line, and three plays later Brice found the end zone from four yards out and extended the lead to 55–17,
The Tigers added a final touchdown of the championship, as Chez Mullusi scampered in from 4 yards out to put the Tigers over the 60-point mark for the first time in 2019.
The 62 points set an ACC Championship record.