BOWL TIME

Charlie Whitehurst

CLEMSON – The Clemson football team made sure to send South Carolina coach Lou Holtz into retirement with a memory he won't soon forget. <br>

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For the second consecutive year, the Tigers dominated every aspect of the brawl-filled game that will keep alumni and fans happy for another year. And while the 29-7 victory Saturday at Memorial Stadium wasn't quite as big as last year's 46-point win, it was nearly as impressive.

That is until an ugly brawl between the two teams that involved nearly every player from each squad took place on the field with 5:48 left in the game. It was such a huge fight that it will forever overshadow Clemson's impressive victory in Holtz's last regular season game.

"This is a very intense rivalry," Tigers coach Tommy Bowden said. "I don't want to minimize it and I want to apologize from our end and our perspective and there's not much I can say about it other than that."

The fight even carried over near the hill, where fans started throwing objects at the South Carolina players.

The massive brawl then turned into several small ones in which players from both sides sustained massive blows. Each team had members there were literally decked to the ground.

Near the very end of it all, Clemson reserve tailback Yusef Kelly, a senior playing in his last home game, grabbed a South Carolina helmet and threw it into the stands.

Every law enforcement official in the stadium rushed to the field and tried to break up the fight. The only problem was they were outnumbered and undersized.

No one was ejected from the game for either school.

As far as the game is concerned, the win improves Clemson's record to 6-5 overall and qualifies them for a postseason bowl game, which will most likely be the MPC Bowl in Boise, Idaho.

"It's the first time a team starts out 1-4 and become bowl eligible in ACC history," Bowden said. "I think that says a lot about the character of the leadership of this team, with most of it being seniors."

Holtz finishes his stint in Columbia with a 1-5 record against Tigers coach Tommy Bowden.

"I consider this my biggest disappointment," Holtz said. "Not just that we lost, but the way we lost the past couple of years. They controlled the line scrimmage. You look at it in hindsight, and you ride off into the sunset, and you say three straight years we lost because of our toughness. I didn't work them enough. I plan coaching the bowl game."

While Clemson was winning the battle in the trenches, Tigers tailback Reggie Merriweather took advantage of the situation. The sophomore carried it 28 times for 125 yards and scored three touchdowns.

Conversely, Gamecocks tailback Demetris Summers had just seven carries for 14 yards.

"I'm just happy the coaches were able to get me the ball," Merriweather said. "Last week, I had a couple of carries, but they came back to me this week and I came to play."

For the most part, so did the rest of his teammates.

Right from the opening kickoff, the Tigers pounced on South Carolina (6-5) as the Tigers' David Dunham drilled the Gamecocks' Cory Boyd and caused him to fumble, which was recovered by Steven Jackson at the South Carolina 9.

Two plays later, Merriweather scored on a three-yard run to give Clemson a quick 7-0 lead with just 52 seconds into the game.

Ten minutes later after another stifling job by the Tigers defense to shut down South Carolina, Merriweather scored his second touchdown with a seven-yard run with 5:17 left in the opening quarter to make it 14-0.

The Gamecocks' only score came in the first half on a ‘Hail Mary' pass from quarterback Syvelle Newton to Boyd for a 54-yard touchdown to make it 14-7 with 8:01 left in the half.

The game was more or less over by the end of the third quarter when the Tigers had added another touchdown by Merriweather and two field goals to make it 26-7 heading into the fourth.

In that decisive quarter, Clemson gained 119 yards,while the Gamecocks were held to held to minus-8.

"I thought that was big by our defense to stop them in the third quarter," Bowden said. "When you go a whole quarter and give up negative yards of offense, it gives you a chance to win the game."

While it might be a little disappointing that Clemson had to settle for field goals instead of touchdowns, it was still one of the more consistent offensive attacks for the Tigers all season.

Even when Clemson was forced to punt, it had moved the ball a good amount of yardage before it kicked it.

Tigers quarterback Charlie Whitehurst started the game a horrid 6-for-15 passing with an interception, but he finished 15-of-28 for 151 yards. A trio of South Carolina quarterbacks finished 9-of-17 passing for 131 yards and an interception.

"Everything happened just like we planned," Whitehurst said. "When you can run the ball like we did, there's going to be that consistency."

When it was all said and done, it was more of the same for the Tigers as they increased their lead in the rivalry to 62-36.

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