Early in the game, both teams provided the level of entertainment expected in this game. After holding Clemson to a missed field goal, UNC moved the ball down the field to the Clemson seven thanks in part to a pair of Tiger personal foul. A snap infraction back the Tar Heels up to the 12 and from there UNC could get to the end zone. Nick Weiler's 30 yard kick gave the Tar Heels an early 3-0 lead.
Clemson answered immediately with an eight play, 75 yard drive and 16-yard touchdown pass from Deshaun Watson to Wayne Gallman. After the teams traded punts, Marquise Williams scrambled then threw back across the field to T.J. Logan. Logan took it 47 yards to the end zone getting a key block from Quinshad Davis to free him. The Tar Heels went for two points out of the unbalanced formation but it failed.
Clemson opened its first possession of the second quarter with a clinical 12 play drive covering 96 yards to retake the lead 14-9. Despite pinning the Tigers back on its own four, UNC could not contain Watson on 3rd and 9 at the five. Clemson later converted a 4th and 4 at the UNC 38 to keep the drive moving. Watson rushed for 9 yards to put the Tigers back in front.
Whatever success UNC had in the first quarter disappeared in the second. Clemson's defensive line made life tough for the Tar Heel blockers putting Williams under near constant pressure. Even when Williams had time he was painfully off the mark, often overthrowing receivers. Still, Clemson didn't take advantage and with the Tigers facing a 4th and 15 at its own 30, Clemson punter Andy Teasdall decided to fake the punt. UNC covered it and the
Tar Heels had the ball back at Clemson's 34. The Tigers' 3rd personal foul of the half move the ball into the red zone and from the three, Williams found Ryan Switzer in the back of the end zone to five the Tar Heels the lead back at 16-14.
After forcing a stop, UNC missed a golden change to extend the lead with 2:20 left but promptly went three and out only burned 18 seconds. Clemson took most of the final two minutes to drive 68 yards to tack on another touchdown just before the half to lead at the break 21-16. Despite giving up 309 yards and having only 103 yards of total offense, the Tar Heels trailed by five with the ball to start the second half.
After halftime, UNC embarked on productive drive relying on big runs from Williams and Elijah Hood. Williams found Mack Hollins for a 25 yard reception on 3rd and 11 to get the Tar Heels into the red zone. Williams then tried to hit Quinshad Davis at the goal line but the ball was tipped at the line and that allowed Clemson DB Cordrea Tankersley to snatch the interception. The Tigers subsequent drive may very well have been the back breaker as Clemson marched 97 yards to extend the lead to 28-16.
From there the game was a clear display of why Clemson is the #1 team in the country and Deshaun Watson one of college football's best quarterbacks. UNC's offense failed to get on track registering quick stops that allowed the Tar Heel defense no rest. UNC tried a fake punt of its own but it failed in spectacular fashion to give Clemson a short field. Two plays later Watson made UNC pay with a 35 yard touchdown strike to Artavis Scott to take a 35-16 lead with 4:58 left.
UNC didn't quite give up though the offense still struggled. Nazair Jones' batted pass and interception put UNC in business at the Clemson 42. UNC made the most of the opportunity and Williams rushed in from the one on the naked bootleg to cut the lead again to 12 points. However UNC has no answer for Clemson's offense and Wayne Gallman. The Tiger running back had been effectively bottled up in the first half but began gashing the Tar Heels in earnest. Gallman account for 67 of Clemson's sixth touchdown drive of the game including capping it off with a one yard run.
The Tar Heels made an effort to make the game interesting with a quick touchdown drive that saw Williams hit Davis for 40 yards and and Brandon Fritts for 27 to get inside the Clemson five. Elijah Hoods 2 yard run cut the lead to 12. UNC followed up by forcing a three and out but a promising drive that reached Clemson territory was undone by a sack of Williams and fumble.
Clemson managed to tack on a field goal for a 45-30 lead but UNC scored again to cut the lead to eight. Then the game took an odd turn in an ACC referee sort of way. The Tar Heels executed a perfect onside kick and recovered the ball but was flagged for offsides. The call was highly questionable as noted by this screen shot.
"Nobody's offsides" pic.twitter.com/HNIDQXYQFc— InsideCarolina (@InsideCarolina) December 6, 2015
UNC tried again and despite jarring the ball loose could not recover it. Clemson managed a first down and killed the clock to win the ACC Championship.
There isn't much beauty to be found in UNC's numbers. Williams was inaccurate all night finishing 11-33 for 224 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. The senior quarterback led UNC with 81 yards rushing, with Elijah Hood account for 65 yards. UNC's 382 yards was the lowest total offense output of the season and the only game the Tar Heels didn't break the 400 yards.
UNC falls to 11-2 and will await its bowl bid which is likely to be the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando.