CLEMSON, S.C. — Viewed as nothing more than a speed bump in third-ranked Clemson’s drive to the Atlantic Coast Conference title, a Bowl Championship Series berth, and a shot at the national championship, Boston College threatened to ruin all of the Tigers’ aspirations Saturday after submitting an amazing effort through three quarters.
Problem was, the Eagles failed to finish the job in a 24-14 loss, as Clemson fought back from a 14-10 third-quarter deficit by scoring a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns. The Tigers (6-0, 4-0) host sixth-ranked Florida State (5-0, 3-0) next weekend in a matchup of Atlantic Division unbeatens.
“It’s hard right now to walk out of here when you know you had a great opportunity,’’ said BC coach Steve Addazio, whose Eagles (3-3, 1-2) were not intimidated by the hostile and boisterous Death Valley crowd of 77,506, who squirmed in their seats when BC led at intermission, 7-3.
“But I’ve got to respect the fight and the tenacity,’’ Addazio added. “I told the guys in the locker room what we’re not going to do is disrespect the warriors on the field by taking any solace in this.’’
Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd (30 of 44, 344 yards) scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 6-yard keeper that capped an eight-play, 48-yard drive with 13:44 to go. Then, after having his name scarcely called during the first three quarters, Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley scored on a 13-yard fumble return off Tony Steward’s strip-sack of Chase Rettig that sealed BC’s fate with 12:42 remaining.
“It’s good to know that we can win a street fight,’’ said Clemson coach Dabo Swinney. “You have to give Boston College credit. They were a tough team, but we battled, we played very physically and we were just a little bit deeper than they were.’’
BC’s Andre Williams, who entered Saturday leading the nation in rushing at 153.6 yards per game, was held to 70 yards on 24 carries. His long gain of 17 yards came on a third-quarter drive that started at the BC 7 and ended at the BC 9, scuttled by a pair of false-start penalties.
“It was a hard loss, seeing how hard we came out and how hard the defense played,’’ Williams said. “We were making plays on offense, but we had too many mistakes. In a game like this, the margin for error is too small to make the amount of mistakes we made.’’
Rettig completed 13 of 21 passes for 192 yards, including a 69-yard TD strike to Alex Amidon (six receptions, 121 yards) that answered Clemson one play after Boyd hit Sammy Watkins with a 48-yard TD pass to give the Tigers a 10-7 lead.
But Rettig was responsible for both of BC’s turnovers. He had a shovel pass that was deflected at the line of scrimmage intercepted by safety Korrin Wiggins. Then, as he attempted to make a play on third down, Rettig coughed it up when he was sacked for the fifth and final time, leading to Beasley’s return.
“They had a good D-line that’s been putting pressure on quarterbacks all season and we knew that coming in and they did a good job,’’ said Rettig, who got lit up on the sideline by Addazio in the fourth quarter after BC was forced to burn a second timeout to avoid a delay-of-game penalty.
“My job is to either throw the ball or throw the ball away or try to make a play,’’ Rettig said. “Sometimes, in trying to make a play, you risk being sacked. I was trying to throw the ball away on the sideline, the ball came out and it was a fumble.’’
Addazio said he found no fault with Rettig’s effort.
“I thought he made some great plays and made some great throws,’’ the coach said. “I loved his leadership and his demeanor today. It’s hard in there, backed into the end zone where it is loud. He battled his tail off and kept his composure. He was laying it all on the line. I’m very proud of him.’’
BC’s defense set the tone by shutting out Clemson in the first quarter, marking the first time in 21 quarters the Tigers had gone scoreless. Freshman Myles Willis scored on a gritty, 38-yard counter-draw to give BC a 7-0 lead with 13:38 left in the first half.
The Eagles forced a pair of first-half turnovers, but the offense was unable to capitalize and BC settled for a 7-3 halftime lead. Clemson’s Chandler Catanzaro atoned for a missed 25-yard field goal in the first quarter by converting a 35-yarder as time expired in the half.
“Even if we were getting into the red zone and kicking field goals, it would’ve been better,’’ Williams said. “But we can’t cry over spilled milk at this point.’’
After both teams traded shots in the third quarter, with Amidon’s 69-yard touchdown coming 19 seconds after Watkins’s 48-yarder, Clemson seized control with a pair of fourth-quarter scores.
Midway through the season, the Eagles are halfway to their goal of becoming bowl eligible, and feeling as though nothing can stop them from running the table in their final six games, beginning with an Oct. 26 date at North Carolina.
Asked what he liked about his team at this juncture, Amidon replied, “Everything.’’
“I love everything about it,’’ he said. “We’ve got fight, toughness, good leadership. Everything is there to win games. We’re going to win a lot of games going down the stretch, because of the way our team is playing.’’