Local News

Virginia 26, Clemson 24

Posted September 24, 2001 6:06 a.m. EDT

— By the time Virginia walked off the field Saturday night, the Atlantic Coast Conference had been turned on its ear.

A 26-24 win over then-No. 19 Clemson (2-1, 0-1 ACC) had Groh answering questions about if his Cavaliers could win the ACC title. "We're in the hunt," he said. "It's a long hunt, but we're in it."

The win put Groh's Cavaliers (2-1, 1-0) and fellow first-year coach Ralph Friedgen on top of the ACC. Meanwhile, the Bowdens are looking up after both got stunned on Saturday. Bobby Bowden made no excuses after Florida State lost to North Carolina 41-9 and dropped to No. 18 from No. 6 in The Associated Press poll of the top 25 college teams.

And son Tommy Bowden, whose Tigers dropped out of The AP poll for the first time since the end of the 1999 season, told fans it isn't time to panic.

"It's three games into the season," Tommy Bowden said. "We're still a work in progress."

Virginia needed some late-game heroics. Bryson Spinner rushed his team to the line of scrimmage at the 1 as the final seconds ticked off. Wide receiver Billy McMullen darted right, beating Clemson cornerback Brian Mance for the game-winning score with one second left. Virginia's game-winning drive covered 44 yards in 1:43. The Cavaliers had no timeouts.

The biggest play of the drive was a 17-yard halfback pass from Tyree Foreman to McMullen that got Virginia down to the Clemson 4. Tiger defensive coordinator Reggie Herring praised the unconventional play call.

"Don't you think a halfback pass at that time of the game would fool anyone?" Herring asked. "That was a real courageous call."

Spinner, who started but shared quarterbacking duties with fellow sophomore Matt Schaub, went 15-for-25 for 186 yards, throwing for two touchdowns and running for another score. McMullen caught eight passes for 88 yards and two touchdowns.

It was a second half full of momentum swings. Two quick Virginia touchdowns put Clemson down 20-10 seven minutes into the third quarter. But with 12:36 left in the game, Clemson retook the lead 24-20 on a 2-yard touchdown run by Travis Zachery.

Dantzler went 25-for-34 for 251 yards and ran for 67 yards, but had two interceptions and one fumble. The fumble was especially costly, coming with less than five minutes left as Clemson drove to put the game away.

"I carry all the responsibility," Dantzler said. "If I hadn't fumbled the ball, they wouldn't have gotten it back."

On the game-winning play, Mance begged for a flag, saying McMullen pushed off. But the official turned away and signaled the touchdown.

McMullen said he didn't push off. Groh shrugged off the noncall. "There's contact on a lot of plays. This is a contact game," he said.

Clemson outgained Virginia 431-387 and, even with the Tigers' no-huddle offense running most of the game, held the ball 10 minutes longer than the Cavaliers. But once again, last minute magic did the Tigers in. Bowden has lost four games at Death Valley in three years, all by three points or less. The last two losses - Saturday's defeat by Virginia and a 31-28 loss to Georgia Tech in 2000 - came in the final moments.

Virginia plays Duke next week at home, before traveling to Maryland on Oct. 6 for what will likely be a showdown for the ACC lead.

Clemson plays at No. 9 Georgia Tech next week, and a loss would likely knock them out of contention for an ACC title.