In the 8-year span from 1981 to 1988, Clemson finished atop the ACC standings six times.
During that stretch, the Tigers suffered just one home loss to a team that finished with a losing record. That instance came on this day 35 years ago.
Despite closing the game with 28 straight points, it wasn’t enough as Clemson fell to NC State, 30-28.
Setting the Stage
Clemson was 6-0 and ranked seventh in the country as it prepared for its fifth of six straight home games on Oct. 24, 1987. The Tigers were looking to avenge a 27-3 loss to NC State the year prior in Raleigh — their only ACC loss of the 1986 season.
Under second-year head coach Dick Sheridan, NC State was in the midst of a disappointing 2-4 season. NC State arrived as 19-point underdogs. In front of more than 73,000 fans at the place known as “Death Valley,” the Wolfpack stunned the crowd of orange early on.
NC State Holds On
Mal Crite, Todd Varn and Bobby Crumpler each rushed for touchdowns as NC State raced to a 30-0 halftime lead. The Tigers didn’t get on the scoreboard until late in the third quarter, but from there, they didn’t stop moving the ball.
Quarterback Rodney Williams set a then NCAA record with 46 pass attempts in the second half, finishing 21-for-53 for 271 yards. His first score came with his legs as he found the end zone from eight yards out before running in the 2-point try.
Clemson mounted touchdown drives of 84, 47, 80 and 81 yards to draw to within two. Tracy Johnson rushed for two scores. Each were followed by failed 2-point tries before Williams hit Ricardo Hooper for a touchdown and then Gary Cooper for the conversion.
While Clemson’s offense had been invigorated, the Wolfpack failed to make it past the Tigers’ 45-yard-line in the second half. They didn’t get a first down in the fourth quarter. Clemson’s Michael Dean Perry had five tackles for loss.
Down 30-28 and needing a field goal to win, Clemson would reach NC State territory on its final march. With just over a minute to play, Williams’ fourth-down pass was incomplete and NC State survived.
NC State would win just once more during what would be a 4-7 season. That was a 47-45 win at Duke.
As for Clemson, it would win its final three conference games to win the ACC outright before falling to South Carolina in the regular season finale. The Tigers closed the year with a 10-2 record and No. 12 national ranking, following a 35-10 drubbing of Penn State in the Citrus Bowl.
The ACC title would be Clemson’s second of three straight. Against NC State, however, its rally fell short as the Wolfpack handed the Tigers their only ACC loss for the second year in a row and on this day 35 years ago.
Featured image courtesy of North Carolina State University