Note: The following appears in the Wake Forest football gameday program.
Editor’s Note – For each program in 2023, Tim Bourret chronicles an epic game in the history of Memorial Stadium. Today is the fourth installment.
Clemson and South Carolina both had “comeback” seasons under second-year nationally known head coaches in 2000. The Tigers won their first eight games and reached a No. 5 ranking in the AP poll under Tommy Bowden. South Carolina started 7-1 under Lou Holtz, with the only loss coming at Alabama.
By the time the two teams met on Nov. 18, 2000, the squads had suffered a couple of losses, but they were still ranked in the top 25 of the AP poll. The Tigers were No. 16 with an 8-2 record, while South Carolina was 7-3 and was ranked No. 25 in the nation.
The game attracted 85,187 fans, still the fourth-largest crowd in Memorial Stadium history, and a regional television audience on ABC. Sean McDonough, who was on the play-by-play of the Florida State vs. Clemson game two weeks ago, handled the broadcast of this game in 2000.
Clemson had an extra week to prepare for the Gamecocks after suffering a setback at No. 3 Florida State on Nov. 4. That extra week helped Woodrow Dantzler in his preparation, because the junior quarterback had been injured off and on for over a month.
On the Tigers’ first possession, Dantzler led the Tigers on a 16-play, 77-yard drive that resulted in a Travis Zachery one-yard touchdown run and 7-0 Clemson lead. It would be the Tigers’ only touchdown of the day.
South Carolina came back on the next drive and scored more quickly. Derek Watson finished this game with 150 yards on 25 carries, including a 61-yard touchdown run on the drive with 2:16 left in the first quarter.
The defenses took over for the next 44 minutes. The only scores over that time period were two field goals by Clemson freshman Aaron Hunt.
Alex Ardley, who finished the year eighth in the nation in interceptions (6), had two picks in the third quarter to stop Gamecock drives. Defensive tackle Terry Jolly had one as well, giving South Carolina quarterback Phil Petty three interceptions in one quarter. South Carolina’s defense did not allow a Tiger first down for the first 10 minutes of the second half.
South Carolina got the ball with about five minutes left and drove inside the Clemson red zone. After a Tiger pass interference call, South Carolina had the ball first-and-goal at the two.
With 59 seconds left in the game, Watson took a handoff and leaped near the goal line, but All-America linebacker Keith Adams (father of current Clemson running back Keith Adams Jr.) hit Watson with full force and the ball popped out, then the ball went forward into the endzone. South Carolina tight end Thomas Hill, who had recovered a fumble earlier in the quarter, recovered for the Gamecock touchdown, and when walk-on Jason Corse kicked the extra point, the Gamecocks led 14-13.
It looked like Clemson was going to suffer a heart-breaking loss on Senior Day.
“After that play, I had this feeling come over me that we were going to win this game,” recalled Dantzler. “I remember looking at Kyle Young and Travis Zachery, and they both had the same feeling.”
After Brian Mance had a 28-yard kickoff return to the 32, the Tigers ran four plays that gained 10 yards. Dantzler was sacked at the Clemson 42, and the Tigers called a timeout with 19 seconds left.
Hunt’s longest field goal to this point in the season was a 31-yarder, so Bowden and Offensive Coordinator Rich Rodriguez believed the Tigers needed to go deep.
“When they sent in the play, Rod (Gardner) knew I was going to him. He looked at me in the huddle and made a big circle with his arms. He said to throw it in my wingspan and I will catch it.”
Dantzler rolled left, then threw it deep across the field down the right sideline. It was a contested play, but Gardner made the catch falling backwards inbounds at the South Carolina eight. Many fans called it “The Catch II,” 23 years after Jerry Butler hauled in “The Catch” at South Carolina in 1977.
As I watched the replay of that 50-yard completion from the press box, it appeared an official reached to his back pocked to the throw a flag, but then stopped.
Legendary Clemson Sports Information Director Bob Bradley had passed away 18 days prior, and long-time press box statistician Jeff Rhodes said to all in earshot that Bradley had reached down from heaven and held that official’s arm.
After Dantzler spiked the ball with seven seconds left, he went to the sidelines as Hunt came on the field for the game-winning attempt.
“I didn’t want to get caught in the rush on the field after the game, so I went into the locker room. When Aaron kicked that ball, I was at my locker.”
The roar of the crowd confirmed to Dantzler that Hunt had made the 25-yard game-winner, giving Clemson one of its most epic wins in the history of the South Carolina rivalry and the history of Death Valley.