Postgame: Tommy Bowden | Postgame: Reggie Merriweather
Postgame: Charlie Whitehurst
But nobody expected it to be this bad.
After one of the biggest wins in school history, Clemson followed it with one of the worst losses when placekicker Matt Brooks booted a career-long 53-yard field goal as time expired to give Duke an amazing and extremely improbable 16-13 victory Saturday in front of 24,714, nearly half of which were dressed in orange, at Wallace Wade Stadium.
The Tigers fall to 5-5 overall and 4-4 in the ACC and have to win next week against South Carolina to qualify for a bowl.
Duke, meanwhile, gained its first conference win of the season and improves to 2-8 overall and 1-6 in the ACC. Duke's only other win came against The Citadel.
"I don't think we quite shook off the victory over Miami, so it hurts," Tigers wide receiver Michael Collins said. "Our play just wasn't up to par today. We just didn't perform like we know we could and the plays turned out on the long end."
The game-winning field goal was set up due to Clemson quarterback Charlie Whitehurst's second interception of the day. All told, the Tigers had four turnovers.
On the interception, Whitehurst was trying to hit Collins on a post route, but Collins fell down and the pass sailed straight into the hands of Duke's Deonto McCormick.
The Blue Devils took over at the Clemson 42 and managed to get six yards to set up the field goal attempt with two seconds on the clock.
The Tigers called two timeouts to try and ice Brooks, but the senior never let it bother him. He lined up, and with a gusty wind at his back, nailed it right down the middle, causing a stream of fans to rush the field.
"I couldn't watch (the kick)," said Clemson offensive lineman Marion Dukes. "I had a towel over my head. I didn't want to watch it. All of a sudden I'm hearing the crowd and I looked up to see if it was theirs or ours. And it was theirs."
|Reggie Merriweather led all rushers with 76 yards on 18 carries Saturday, but it wasn't enough.|
"It was just like another field goal," Brooks said. "(Duke) Coach (Ted) Roof has us practice it all the time. He backs me up to 52 at least twice a week. … A good snap, a good hold and I hit the ball perfectly. I got lucky. … It has been a long year and I am glad I had another chance to (win the game)."
Clemson came into the contest ranked 108th in the nation in total offense, while the Blue Devils came in even worse at 114th. Both teams showed why on Saturday.
"Things just aren't clicking," Whitehurst said. "The guys we're counting on to make plays aren't making them, and I'm included in that. It's got to happen if you want to win."
One of those not making plays was wide receiver Kelvin Grant, who once again dropped a critical pass that would have kept a Clemson drive alive and early in the third quarter. Grant never saw the field again.
All told, the Tigers managed just a measly 250 yards of total offense, 117 of which came through the air. This was against a Blue Devils defense that was ranked 107th.
Duke, meanwhile, only had 234 yards of total offense. But thanks to the turnovers by Clemson, the Blue Devils were able to make the most of them.
"The offense has been struggling all year," Collins said. "We just feel that in order for us to turn things around, we've still got to perform on offense. Our defense played great today. They played good enough for us to win and we just didn't put points on board today and that's been a trend all season."
Duke's improbable run to win it peaked when it tied the game at 13 with 1:21 left in the fourth quarter when Mike Schneider threw a swing pass to tailback Ronnie Drummer, who eluded backup middle linebacker David Dunham, who was in because starter Leroy Hill hurt his hand, to get into the end zone.
The Blue Devils might have been given time to score because on the previous possession, Clemson coach Tommy Bowden opted to throw the ball on second and third downs, both of which were incomplete and stopped the clock, thus not making Duke use any of its timeouts.
The Tigers had taken the lead earlier in the quarter after marching 76 yards on 11 plays in 4:32, as tailback Reggie Merriweather scored on a three-yard run with 12:57 remaining to play. It was his eighth rushing touchdown of the season.
However, everything prior to the exciting fourth quarter was downright ugly for both teams.
With a scoreless third quarter, Clemson tied things at 6 in the second quarter following a Jad Dean field goal with 13:04 left before half.
Each team had chances to score touchdowns in the first quarter, but both had to settle for field goals.
It was a sign of things to come offensively for both teams.
Whitehurst finished the day 12-of-26 for 117 yards and two interceptions. Merriweather led all rushers with 76 yards on 18 carries.
Schneider was 20-of-31 for 213 yards and no interceptions.
"It stinks that we came up here with such high expectations," said Clemson defensive end Bobby Williamson. "I thought our defense did really good today. … You just can't really pinpoint one thing. We just didn't play as a team today."