Clemson’s 27-17 win over Wake Forest back in 2006 may have looked routine on the scoreboard but rest assured, it wasn’t. Not only did the Tigers have to overcome a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit, they had to do so against a 5-0 Demon Deacons squad in Winston-Salem.
CJ Spiller ran 72 yards for the go-ahead touchdown, defensive lineman Gaines Adams returned a fumble for a score and Clemson as rallied from 14 points down in the fourth quarter of a 27-17 win
“Two years in a row here, playing in this stadium, it brings us trouble,” Adams said at the time. “Everything was going their way the first half, and partially the second half, but we kept fighting.”
Adams started Clemson’s comeback by causing a fumble after a muffed snap on a field-goal attempt, recovering the ball and returning it 66 yards for the momentum-changing score on the first play of the fourth quarter.
“I would very much say if we continue to do well, that could very well be the defining, hallmark play of Clemson’s season,” coach Tommy Bowden said. “In my opinion, it was the play of the game.”
Those that saw it, would completely agree.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Wake Forest was poised to take a 17-point lead when Sam Swank lined up for a 42-yard field-goal attempt. But placeholder Jon Temple had trouble handling the snap, so he pulled the ball up and tried to run.
Almost immediately, Adams burst through the line and leveled him at the 34. The ball popped into the air, Adams scooped it up and ran 66 yards for a touchdown to pull Clemson to 17-10. I still smile, remembering that big, hulk of a man, sprinting towards the end zone to find pay dirt. In that same ESPN interview, Gaines stated, “they just messed up. I was surprised he didn’t fall on the ball.”
Known collectively as “Thunder and Lightning,” CJ Spiller finished with 104 yards and James Davis added 95 for the Tigers. In a total team effort, they got plenty of help from the defense, Gaines Adams, in particular and special teams. To put this game and Adams’ heroics into perspective, Wake Forest led 17-3 entering the final 15 minutes and looked to extend its lead to 17 before Swank’s field-goal attempt turned into Adams’ touchdown.
Later, the Tigers forced Wake quarterback Riley Skinner to fumble on the Deacons’ next possession. Five plays later, Tigers’ quarterback Will Proctor tied it at 17-all with a 20-yard touchdown pass to Aaron Kelly. Spiller then all but sealed it when he took a handoff at the 28, ran through a tackle and sprinted down the right sideline into the end zone. Jad Dean would add a field goal to top off this much needed, much deserved victory.
The Tigers knew that they had been embarrassed after losing at Wake in 2003 and then also losing the next season. In the days leading up to the game, in every interview, all vowed that this trip to Winston-Salem would be different. It was. This game, the win, while a total team effort was spearheaded by the momentum created by the unlikeliest of heroes, Gaines Adams.
Sadly, the Clemson Family lost Gaines Adams in 2010 to an undiagnosed heart condition. I’m not sure the Clemson Family will ever approach the yearly contest against Wake Forest and not remember that early October Saturday in 2006. It’ll always be remembered as the day, the game Gaines Adams stole the show. Great memories.
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