COLLEGE PARK, Md. – One thing is for certain, win or lose, the Clemson football team certainly has a flair for the dramatics. For the eighth time in the last 13 games, the outcome was decided in the closing minutes and for the sixth time, the Tigers won.
Clemson tailback Reggie Merriweather scored on a 38-yard run with 2:58 left to play to propel the No. 25 Tigers to the 28-24 victory over Maryland in front of 50,637 fans Saturday at Byrd Stadium.
It was the eighth time in the team’s last 13 games that the outcome was decided in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter. Clemson is 6-2 in those games.
“I’m glad my body is getting used to these types of games,” Tigers coach Tommy Bowden said. “If you’re in this conference, I think you’re in for a lot of them. … Right now, this is kind of the M.O. of this team – close fourth quarter games. I think we better get prepared for it … because I think we’re going to see a lot of games like that with the strength of our schedule.”
As a result, Clemson improves to 2-0 overall for the first time since 2000, and 1-0 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Terrapins fall to 1-1 overall and 0-1 in the ACC.
“(Offensive coordinator Rob) Spence has a lot of faith in the running game, that’s why we don’t want to let him down when we get into the game,” Merriweather said.
In that pivotal fourth quarter, the Tigers offense opened up, while the defense made the stops when it needed to. It all came together and exactly the right time.
The Tigers trailed 24-14 entering the fourth quarter, but a 51-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Charlie Whitehurst to receiver Curtis Baham with 7:35 left to play made it 24-21. It was just the second time all game the Tigers attempted a pass downfield.
Prior to that play, Clemson settled for dump passes and runs the entire game.
“It feels good contributing to a win,” said Baham, who finished with two catches for 57 yards and two touchdowns. “I’ve never won up here. I’ve been up here all this time and it feels good.”
Who knew that Baham was a deep threat?
“Nobody, that’s why it worked,” he said. “I’m an all-around threat.”
The following series, Maryland was held to eight yards on three plays and forced to punt. It was a dramatic difference from the third quarter when the Terrapins scored on their final two possessions of the third quarter to build that 10-point lead.
“We stopped ‘The Fridge, (Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen)’ ” said defensive coordinator Vic Koenning. “He had (56) yards rushing when you count the sacks. That hasn’t happened to him. …
“I had a sense we were getting better. I felt better as the game went on. Now, in the third quarter, I wasn’t feeling very good, I’ll tell you.”
The stop by the defense enabled Clemson for a chance to win on its final drive for the second time this year.
The Tigers took over at their own 39 with 5:34 left in the game. After a three-yard pass, freshman tailback James Davis sprung free for a 17-yard run to the Maryland 41. On the very next play, he broke an even bigger run, this time it went for 29 yards down to the 12. But a holding penalty against Barry Richardson brought the play back and spotted the ball at 50.
Merriweather carried it on first-and-19 for a gain of eight and then had a pass reception for four yards to make it third-and-seven on the Terrapins 38. The very next play, Merriweather took the handoff, bounced it outside and scooted down the right sideline for the touchdown.
“We had the game in hand and we have to give credit to Clemson,” Friedgen said. “They did a great job of coming back. Really, I thought they took it to us in the fourth quarter, which greatly disappoints me.”
The score was Merriweather’s second of they day. He finished with 10 carries for 75 yards, while Davis had 20 rushes for 82 yards. Whitehurst also had a good game by going 18-of-22 for 178 yards and two touchdowns.
“We made plays when we had to, and the defense made the plays when they had to,” Whitehurst said. “It was good to com in here and beat these guys.”