Historic Halloween comeback in Death Valley as Tigers rally past BC

by - Senior Writer -
Etienne ran into the record books in Death Valley (Photo courtesy of ACC)
Etienne ran into the record books in Death Valley (Photo courtesy of ACC)

CLEMSON – Saturday had it all. Large deficits. Historic comebacks. Fourth-quarter fourth-down stops. A true freshman quarterback making his first start. And another record-setting day by Travis Etienne.

Etienne carried the ball 20 times for 84 yards and had seven catches for 140-yards in a record-setting performance as Clemson overcame an 18-point first half deficit as No. 1 Clemson escaped a Halloween day contest with a 34-28 victory over plucky Boston College Saturday on a crisp fall day in Death Valley.

The comeback is the largest deficit overcome to come back and win in Death Valley – Clemson trailed 35-18 against Virginia in 1966 and came back to win 40-35 (which also happens to be the first day Howard's Rock was at the top of the hill).

"I’m just so proud of them. What you saw today is uncommon," head coach Dabo Swinney said. "We talk about being uncommon. What you saw today is not the norm. It is uncommon. It is the epitome of team and to be honest, what I saw was inspiring. It was just inspirational to see perseverance, to see guys fight, to overcome, to not quit, to stay together, to keep playing, to not flinch. Just an unbelievable game. Unbelievable game. I got my first win against Boston College 12 years ago tomorrow on November 1. I will never forget that one and I will never forget this one. That’s two I will never, ever, ever forget."

Etienne’s record-setting day made him the ACC’s all-time leading rusher, while freshman quarterback DJ Uiagalelei was stellar in his first start, completing 30-of-41 passes for 342 yards and two touchdowns. Wide receiver Cornell Powell, who entered the game with 14 catches on the season, had a career day with 11 catches for 105 yards.

Clemson plays at No. 4 Notre Dame next Saturday at 7:30 p.m. (NBC) in a top-five matchup for ACC supremacy.

It was a bleak outlook for the Tigers early, with a true freshman quarterback making his first start and the big deficit in the first half.

"I want to congratulate Boston College," said Swinney. "What an awesome job they did. Those guys played their tails off. Jeff (Hafley) had them ready. They played a really, really hard-fought game. I knew they would. I told our team this week I thought it was the best team we had played to this point.

The Eagles took the opening drive and scored without much of a problem. A 35-yard pass from quarterback Phil Jurkovec to Zay Flowers on the first play from scrimmage set the tone, and he later hit Flowers on an 11-yard scoring pass for a 7-0 lead, the first time Clemson has trailed this season.

That brought up Uiagalelei and the Clemson offense. The Tigers covered 30 yards in the first seven plays, and facing a 1st-and-10 at the Boston College 35, Uiagalelei felt the blitz coming from the right side and found his hot read, hitting Etienne in stride. Etienne did the rest and raced 35 yards untouched into the end zone to tie the score at 7-7 barely four minutes into the game.

With the score, Etienne set an NCAA FBS record by scoring a touchdown in 42 games in his career.

Boston College answered with another impressive drive, marching 75 yards in just six plays and scoring on a two-yard scoring run. With 8:41 to play in the first quarter, Boston College led 14-7.

The teams traded punts, but Uiagalelei led the Tigers on an impressive drive that reached the Boston College one-yard line. The Tigers brought in the jumbo package with defensive tackles Bryan Bresee and Nyles Pinckney, but the handoff to Etienne was high and he fumbled the ball. It was scooped up by BC’s Bryce Sebastian, who raced 97 yards for the touchdown and a 21-7 Boston College lead with 12:08 to play in the half.

Uiagalelei led another impressive drive, hitting Etienne for 33 yards and Cornell Powell for 16 for big plays, but had to settle for a 33-yard field goal from BT Potter and BC led 21-10 midway through the second quarter.

Boston College then threw a dagger into the Tiger defense. The Eagles put together a staggering 15-play drive that covered 75 yards, but it was a fourth down play and a little help from the officials that helped propel the dagger. Midway through the drive, Nolan Turner appeared to intercept a Jurkovec pass, but Justin Mascoll was called for a roughing the passer penalty that wasn’t really close. Later in the drive, on fourth-and-one, the Eagles lined up for a field goal but then went into fake mode as the holder moved under center. A Clemson defender went to shift and was called for offsides.

That led to an 18-yard scoring pass from Jurkovec to Shittah Sillah, and Boston College led 28-10 with just over a minute to play in the half.

Clemson wasn’t quite done in the half, however, and Potter nailed a 50-yard field goal with seven seconds remaining and the Eagles led 28-13 at intermission.

Etienne gave the Tigers a spark coming out of the half, returning the kickoff 40 yards to the 44-yard line. A 14-yard pass from Uiagalelei to Powell on third down kept the drive alive, but the Tigers faced a 4th-and-1 at the BC 30 just a few plays later. Swinney elected to go for it, and Uiagalelei kept the ball on a read option as the Eagle defense collapsed on Etienne on the inside. Uiagalelei raced 30 yards untouched for the score, and it was 28-20 with 11:38 to play in the third quarter.

Clemson’s defense forced a punt and Clemson took over at its own 36. A 42-yard pass to Etienne on a sluggo put the Tigers in prime scoring position, and a keeper on a short down fourth-down by Uiagalelei set up a pretty throw to Amari Rodgers for the score. Rodgers broke inside and Uiagalelei threw a back shoulder pass that Rodgers spun around and caught and fell down in the end zone. The two-point conversion failed and Boston College led 28-26 midway through the third quarter.

Boston College pushed a drive near midfield, but it was derailed on a motion penalty on third down and following several flags and a punt, Clemson took over at its own nine. A quick 11-yard pass to Rodgers set up the final play of the third quarter, a pitch that Etienne took 16 yards to the Clemson 36.

With that rush, Etienne became now the ACC’s all-time leading rusher, surpassing Ted Brown’s mark of 4,602 yards, a record that has stood since 1978. As the teams walked off the field after the play, the crowd chanted Etienne’s name. He is now the ACC’s all-time leader in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, and total touchdowns.

Etienne continued to make plays on the drive, including an 11-yard catch for a big first down and then capped it off with a 17-yard burst up the middle for a score. The Tigers then burned two timeouts, had a false start penalty that derailed a two-point conversion, and then had the extra point try clang off the upright. With 11:34 to play, Clemson led 32-28.

The teams traded punts – Clemson with an ineffective three-and-out in which Etienne didn’t touch the football – and the Eagles put together a clock-killing drive that included another Clemson interception wiped out by a roughing the passer penalty and a fourth-down conversion by the Eagles’ backup quarterback.

Keith Grosel, who hasn’t thrown a pass all year, took over for Jurkovec on 4th-and-3 and got the first down, but the Tigers stopped the next fourth-down conversion when Jurkovec – back in the game – overthrew his receiver on the post route and the Tigers took over at their own 46 with just over two minutes to play.

The Tigers were once again forced to punt and Spiers dropped a beautiful kick at the Boston College four-yard line. On the first play from scrimmage, Bresee grabbed Jurkovec in the end zone for a safety that ended the threat of a Halloween upset. Jurkovec tried to get away and dumped a pass in the hands of an offensive lineman, but was called for the intentional grounding in the end zone, an automatic safety.

The Eagles tried an onside kick but it was recovered by Nolan Turner and the Tigers ran out the clock.

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