CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. - Just when you thought the Tigers had no fight left in their 2008 season, they rally to defeat Boston College, 27-21 to improve to 4-4 overall and 2-3 in the ACC.
C.J. Spiller's day wasn't done after a hit left him wobbly on the sideline. First, though, he had to pass a test from the Clemson medical staff to prove he was lucid enough to return.
"He had to fight with the doggone trainers. They weren't going to let him back in," interim Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said after Spiller returned to lead the Tigers to a 27-21 victory over Boston College. "I guess he guessed right on the three questions. I asked him what the three questions were and helped him with the answers."
The Tigers (4-4, 2-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) had not beaten the Eagles (5-3, 2-3) in six tries since 1958, including three straight heartbreakers since BC joined the league: One in overtime, one in double overtime and one on a touchdown pass in the final minutes.
"It felt like we had the momentum most of the game," said receiver Aaron Kelly, whose touchdown reception with 7:10 left put the Tigers ahead 24-21 after they squandered a 17-0 halftime lead. "It was like 'Oh, man. Here we go again. 'But the team never gave up."
Spiller, who missed most of the third quarter after what was called a head injury, caught six passes for 105 yards - the most for a running back in Clemson history - while setting up one touchdown with a 57-yard scamper run and another with a 64-yard kickoff return.
"We knew they'd come back, after the last few times we played them," said Spiller, who was awarded a leather helmet as the game's MVP. "Coach said, 'It's time to go out and make a big play."'
Swinney earned an orange Gatorade bath for his first victory since he took over the Tigers - the consensus preseason picks to win the conference - when Tommy Bowden stepped down for the good of the program. He lost his debut to Georgia Tech as Clemson fell for the third straight week.
Cullen Harper completed 21-of-33 passes for 252 yards, and linebacker DeAndre McDaniel forced a key fourth-quarter fumble by Clarence Megwa. The BC receiver was taken off the field on a cart after dropping what would have been a first-down reception, setting up the Tigers up at the BC 40 and leading to a 43-yard field goal with 2:46 to play that made it 27-21.
Chris Crane completed 18 of 39 passes for 116 yards, but the Eagles turned the ball over on downs on their final possession when his pass to James McCluskey was ruled out of bounds and upheld by replay.
"It played out a lot like last year," Crane said. "We were down and we came back and we just didn't have that final push. We just didn't score on the last drive."
Spiller, who had a 242 total yards in the game, helped the Tigers take a 17-0 halftime lead over BC before they squandered it for the fourth straight year. Then he helped them go ahead with a 64-yard touchdown return.
After Spiller was forced out of bounds at the BC 15, Harper hit Michael Palmer to put the ball on the 1. Three plays later the QB found Aaron Kelly in the right corner of the end zone with 7:10 left; it was originally ruled out of bounds but overturned on replay.
It was Kelly's 19th career touchdown, a school record.
The game featured the debut of the O'Rourke-McFadden Trophy, created to honor the winner of what has become a budding ACC rivalry. As MVP, Spiller earned a leather helmet in the blue and orange colors worn by Clemson when Hall of Famers "Chuckin' Charlie" O'Rourke and James "Bonnie Banks" McFadden met in the 1940 Cotton Bowl.
Spiller, who missed the previous game with a hamstring injury, left early in the second half when he was hit out of bounds after a 40-yard catch-and-run. He wobbled across the field to the Clemson sideline; but shortly after it was announced that he was doubtful to return, he was back on the field.
James Davis had a 23-yard touchdown run, and Harper ran it in from 3 yards out to give Clemson a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. Mark Buchholz made it 17-0 with a 27-yard field goal with 57 seconds left in the half.
BC linebacker Mike McLaughlin picked Harper off and returned the ball 36 yards to the Clemson 7; four plays later, Josh Haden ran it in from the 1 to make it 17-7. Justin Jarvis blocked a punt and Roderick Rollins picked it up and ran it in 25 yards for a touchdown with 10:36 left to play to pull BC within three.
On the next play from scrimmage, Wes Davis picked Harper off and returned it 24 yards to the Tigers' 21-yard-line. BC was stuck at fourth-and-4 at the 15 when Crane shook himself loose from a pass rusher and lobbed it into the side of the end zone for Brandon Robinson.
A flag came out and Clemson lobbied for offensive pass interference, but it was called on the Tigers and the Eagles had their first lead of the game, 21-17 with 8:43 left.