CHARLOTTE — In the latest iteration of the three certainties in life, there are death, taxes and the Clemson Tigers football team winning the ACC championship and participating in the College Football Playoff.
Quarterback Trevor Lawrence threw for four touchdowns — three of those caught by receiver Tee Higgins — and Travis Etienne rushed for 114 yards on just 14 carries to lift Clemson to a dominating 62-17 victory over Virginia in the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship Game at Bank of America Stadium.
For the fifth consecutive season, Clemson caps its ACC season with a win in the conference championship game, becoming the first FBS school to ever win five consecutive conference championship games. The win also all but secured its place among the final four of the College Football Playoff, which would mark Tigers’ fifth straight selection.
“I don’t know what else can be said, but I can just tell you this is an incredibly special group of young people,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “This has been so much fun to do something that’s never been done. It’s hard to do, and you know obviously nobody has won five conference titles – I played in the first-ever championship game [for Alabama] in ’92 – and nobody has won five in a row until now. This team got it done, but those other four teams gave us the opportunity to have this chance tonight, so just proud of these guys.”
Clemson turned an even first 10 minutes of the game, a stretch where the Tigers and Cavaliers exchanged touchdowns on consecutive drives, by scoring 24 unanswered points to put the game out of reach by halftime. Lawrence’s 19-yard strike to Higgins on Clemson’s first drive opened the scoring, and his 59-yard strike to Justyn Ross with 4:46 remaining in the first gave the Tigers the lead for good at 14-7.
Etienne added a 26-yard scoring jaunt in the second quarter before Lawrence found Higgins for the second time in the end zone from seven years out with 46 seconds remaining in the game to give Clemson an insurmountable 31-7 advantage at halftime.
Lawrence finished the game completing 16 of his 22 passes for 302 yards, while Higgins’ three touchdowns earned him the game’s Most Valuable Player award.
Virginia, who was the only Coastal Division team to never participate in the ACC Championship Game until its win over rival Virginia Tech last week to clinch the division title, recovered from a Bryce Perkins interception on its opening drive to restore parity soon after the Tigers’ first score. Perkins completed a 12-play, 78-yard drive on the Cavaliers’ second possession with a 20-yard touchdown pass to Hasise Dubois to tie the score at 7-7.
Perkins, who also threw a touchdown to Terrell Jana to complete Virginia’s opening drive of the second half, went 27-of-43 passing for 266 yards with two interceptions to go along with the two scores.
Despite the loss, the Cavaliers appear likely to head to the Orange Bowl as the ACC representative in the game, with the Tigers heading to the College Football Playoff.