Clemson started with possession and they got things going with a 3-yard rush from Deshaun Watson. Then 8 plays and 72 yards later, it was Watson finishing off the drive just like he started it with a 3 yard rushing TD to give the Tigers a 7-0 lead with 11:47 left in the 1st quarter.
Va. Tech was unable to move the ball at all on their opening possession as they were forced into a quick three and out. Then Clemson went back to work. Again going 9 plays on the scoring drive for 83 yards. The drive was capped off with a 21 yard TD pass from Watson to a wide open Jordan Leggett to make it 14-0 with 5:57 left in the 1st quarter.
The Hokies 2nd drive looked to be over quickly as well, until a 15 yard targeting penalty on 3rd down extended their drive. Then on the next set of downs, they faked a punt on 4th down to pick up a 1st down. Then a 15-yard pass interference call against Clemson made it a 1st and 10 at the Tiger 27 for the Hokies. 5 plays later they capped off the drive with a 1-yard rush from Travon McMillian to make it 14-7 with 51 seconds left in the 1st quarter.
Watson and the Tigers answered right back with another Watson to Leggett connection. This time it was for 10 yards to make it 21-7 with 11:46 left in the 1st half. The Hokies were not able to keep their momentum and after 1 first down they were forced to punt.
The Hokies defense was finally able to get the Tigers off the field for the 1st time of the night. This then led to an epic drive for VA. Tech. On the first play from scrimmage, Jerod Evans found Isaiah Ford for a 53 yard TD connection to make it 1st and 10 at the Clemson 17 yard line. 4 plays later it was Evans doing it with his legs on an 11-yard TD run to make it 21-14 with 4:09 left in the first half.
Va. Tech’s defense rode the momentum and stood tall, forcing Clemson to punt for a second consecutive drive. This gave the Hokies the ball 1st and 10 at their own 26 yard line with 1:16 left in the 1st half. They would be unable to put anything together and were forced to punt with 13 seconds left and the Tigers took over with just 6 seconds left on the clock. They would take a knee and the lead into the locker room at the half.
Hokies started with the ball in the second half, but were unable to get anything going as they were forced into a quick 3 and out. Clemson’s first drive of the second half ended in disaster, as Watson was intercepted by Andrew Motuapuaka. This gave the Hokies possession at the Tigers 38 yard line. However, they were unable to capitalize off the turnover and had to punt after another 3 and out.
Clemson’s offense made up for the previous turnover on their ensuing possession. They went 89 yards in 9 plays as Wayne Gallman found his way into the endzone on an 8 yard run to make it 28-14 with 9:17 left in the 3rd. After this it was an exchange of punts from both Virginia Tech and Clemson.
On Virginia Tech’s next possession Jerod Evans threw a pass to the right sideline and it was picked off by Cordrea Tankersley with a beautiful toe tapping catch on the side line. This made it 1st and 10 Tigers at the Va. Tech 49 yard line. It then took Watson just 4 plays to get into the endzone as he rushed it in from just 2 yards out after throwing it 39 yards down field to Deon Cain. This made it 35-14 with 4:45 left in the 3rd quarter.
The Hokies didn’t waiver though, and then put together a quick scoring drive of their own. On 3rd and 9 from their own 29-yard line, Evans found Bucky Hodges for the 42-yard pass completion. Then it was McMillian again doing it with his legs, this time on a 27 yard TD run as he muscled his way into the endzone, This cut the Tiger lead and made it 35-21.
Clemson was unable to answer back as the Hokies defense forced a Clemson punt, which gave Va. Tech a prime chance to cut the lead to just a 1 score game. And that’s exactly what they did. It took 12 plays, but in the end it was a 5 yard rushing TD from Jerod Evans to make it 35-28 with just 11:35 left in regulation.
Then it was Clemson again with the ball and a chance to extend their lead. The Tigers were backed up to a 3rd and 14 at the VT 45 yard line when Watson threw a jump ball up to Deon Cain who was able to come down with it for the 1st down. Then on the next play, Watson threw to Hunter Renfrow, who was able to get into the endzone for the 15 yard TD score to make it 42-28 with 7:28 left in the game.
This looked like it was going to put it out of reach, but Va Tech continued to fight on and press. They went 76 yards on 6 plays in just a minute and 45 seconds as Evans found Cam Phillips for the 26 yard TD connection to make it 42-35 with 5:43 left on the clock.
Hokies then needed a defensive stand and they got it! They forced a 3 and out and got the ball back with a 1st and 10 at their own 41-yard line. 5 plays later they had a 1st and 10 at the Tigers 27-yard line. Clemson’s defense then stood tall and forced a 4th down. It was 4th and 6 from the Tigers 23 yard line with just 1:16 left on the clock. Jerod Evans looked to his right side and threw a pass that was low and picked off by Cordrea Tankersley to seal the deal for the Tigers.
The Hokies were a very hard out and head coach Dabo Swinney of the Clemson Tigers acknowledged that after the game, “When you’re in champion game, there’s an opponent, and they got here for a reason, and I just want to congratulate Virginia Tech because we could just not put them away. I mean, we were up three touchdowns, two touchdowns, and it just never seemed like enough. Those guys just kind of found a play here or there. So they had a tremendous heart of a champion out there here tonight. They’ll be a heck of a program for many years to come with Justin.”
An 11 yard rush for a first down from Watson and then a kneel in victory formation, made it a 42-35 win as the Tigers make it back to back Conference Titles for them for the first time in 28 years.