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Tigers pull off last-minute magic
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Tigers pull off last-minute magic
Posted Sunday, October 24, 2004 - 12:08 am

By Ed McGranahan

CLEMSON -- Their offense on life support with barely a pulse, the Clemson Tigers crawled back from the dead Saturday, resuscitated by their defense, then propped up by a pass interference call in the end zone in the final game's final seconds.
Down by four points with less than three minutes to play, the Tigers drove to within steps of the Maryland end zone. Reggie Merriweather scored from the 2-yard line with 23 seconds to play, getting the maximum reach out of his 5-feet, 8 inches to put the nose of the ball in the end zone for the winning touchdown and a 10-7 victory.

Quarterback Charlie Whitehurst, stumped and dumped by the Maryland defense most of the afternoon, described the Tigers' 58-yard, eight-play scoring drive as a "ninth-inning home run."

"We did it when we had to," said Whitehurst, who completed 14 of 31 passes for 170 yards. "It was the last chance."

"You hate to be that anemic on offense," said Clemson coach Tommy Bowden, whose teams had been 4-21 when trailing at halftime "but it takes your defense to another level."

Certainly, until the final drive, the Tigers' offense wasn't going anywhere. The Terrapins held Clemson to 206 yards, forced nine punts and sacked Whitehurst five times, the most this season since the loss at Texas A&M.

Other than the touchdown drive and an 18-play 73-yarder in the second quarter ending with Jad Dean's 21-yard field goal, the Tigers were limited to 77 yards on 11 other possessions.

"We should have scored more points today," Whitehurst said. "But 10-7 is fine with me."

As difficult a day as it was for the offense, the Clemson defense was superb, limiting Maryland to 194 yards and a first quarter touchdown after a blocked punt. Jamaal Fudge intercepted his second pass of the season and Justin Miller picked off his first.

"Our job is to make plays and get off the field, and we did that," Miller said.

Most impressive was the defensive resilience during the second half when the Tiger offense sputtered.

"We did what we had to do to help our offense out," said linebacker LeRoy Hill, who had 10 tackles including a sack.

Also crucial to the Clemson effort was Cole Chason, who gathered himself after his first punt was blocked to keep the Terrapins pinned near their end zone, averaging 45 yards on eight kicks.

After the blocked punt, Maryland needed six plays from the 17 before Allen's 1-yard run and Nick Novak's extra point made it 7-0. The Terrapins would have only two other possessions of consequence. A 60-yarder in the second quarter ended when Novak missed a 38-yard field goal. Maryland gave up the ball on downs after driving 56 yards to the Clemson 31 in the third quarter.

"We're not good enough where we can continually drive the ball over long periods of time and make the key plays at the key times," said Ralph Friedgen, who'd beaten Clemson his first three seasons as Maryland coach and whose teams had been 30-0 after leading at the half.

Maryland missed an opportunity to put some distance on the Tigers in the third quarter when Whitehurst fumbled inside the Clemson 25 and the ball bounced out of bounds before the Terrapins (3-4, 1-3) could cover it.

"He stepped out of bounds right when he scooped the ball," Whitehurst said.

On the decisive scoring drive, Whitehurst lofted a pass to Kelvin Grant on second-down and goal from the 4. Grant and cornerback Gerrick McPherson jostled for position. McPherson was called for pass interference. Merriweather scored on the next play.

"I was going for the ball, and he was going for the ball," Grant said. "Luckily I got the call."

Grant said he "knew there was going to be on a flag."

"I thought it was going to be on him," he said. Asked if he thought he interfered, Grant said he "couldn't recall."

"I was in the heat of the moment," he said. "I'd have to see it on film."

Regardless of the game's artistic merit, the victory gets Clemson (3-4, 2-3 in the Atlantic Coast Conference) halfway to bowl eligibility with four games to play. Next up is N.C. State, followed by a trip to Miami.

"It was now or never," said receiver Airese Currie of the urgency facing the Tigers. "It was a gut check."
10-24-2004 12:57 PM
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