Over the bye week staff writer Sam Clemons shares, what are in his opinion, the ten most iconic games the Tigers have played during his lifetime.
No. 3: Woody’s Last Punch (1978 Gator Bowl)
Clemson and the Ohio State Buckeyes faced on December 29, 1978, with the Tigers winning 17-15. The game is most remembered for an incident in which long time Ohio State head coach Woody Hayes punched a Clemson player after a play late in the fourth quarter, leading to Hayes’ being fired the next day.
Factor in, this was Danny Ford’s first game as the Tigers head coach. Earlier the previous week, Charlie Pell had accepted his new position as the Florida Gators head Coach but asked to stay on through the Gator Bowl game. The Clemson Board of Trustees said No! So, with only 5 days left before the game itself, Ford took charge. Truly an iconic game for a few reasons.
No. 2: The “10-8cious”Game (Clemson at UNC 1981)
During fall camp, Danny Ford quietly told those close to him that he “felt good” about his team’s chances headed into that fateful 1981 season. Boy, was that an understatement.
Danny Ford’s Tigers met Coach Dick Krum’s eighth ranked Tarheels in the pastoral setting of Chapel Hill. This game would prove to be one of the fiercest defensive struggles in the history of ACC football. North Carolina entered the game at 7-1. Clemson was 8-0. Fans of both schools quietly coveted a national as neither team had been crowned nationally.
The climax of this titanic battle came late in the fourth quarter. With Clemson clinging to a 10-8 lead UNC began a drive from their three-yard line after a Dale “Thunder Foot” Hatcher punt. The Heels quickly drove the ball to their 40. With just over a minute to play, they were rapidly approaching field goal range.
Crum had been forced to go to the pass in an attempt to pull the game out. UNC QB Scott Stankavage came through passing and scrambling his way to a first down at his 40. Then the play of the game happened!
Stankavage tossed what was supposed to be a screen pass that was broken up by Bill Smith, who jarred the ball loose. It rolled toward the Clemson sideline with several Tiger coaches yelling, “get on the ball, get on the ball!” Jeff Bryant heard the coaches screaming or had the presence of mind to realize that the ball had actually been thrown backwards and was, therefore, not a forward pass but a lateral or backwards pass. Bill Smith’s hit had caused a fumble, not an incomplete pass. Bryant pounced on the ball before it went out of bounds and Clemson’s victory was secure.
Following the turnover, Homer Jordan took a knee a couple of times and the game was over. I was there, saw the whole incident right in front of my seat. It was only a hint of what lay ahead in that magical 1981.
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