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By AARON BEARDAssociated Press Writer
RALEIGH, N.C. – For the second straight game, North Carolina State’s defense upstaged its high-scoring offense.
Philip Rivers threw two touchdown passes while the defense turned its best showing on the scoreboard all season as the Wolfpack beat Clemson 17-15 on Thursday night.
The 15 points were the fewest allowed by the Wolfpack all season. The unit had been allowing 30 points per game, but allowed just one touchdown and made several big stops, including on a potential tying 2-point conversion with 6:01 to play.
That allowed N.C. State (5-3, 2-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) to improve to 5-0 at home despite a season-low 283 total yards.
“That’s the ultimate goal, to keep them out of the end zone and keep them to as few points as possible,” said safety Andre Maddox, who finished with seven tackles. “We stepped up and made some big plays at the end.”
Rivers had scoring tosses to T.A. McLendon and Richard Washington, allowing him to tie the ACC career record. He has 79 touchdown passes in his career, tying the mark set by Florida State’s Chris Weinke.
Chad Jasmin scored the only touchdown for the Tigers (4-3, 2-2), who trailed throughout the contest. Aaron Hunt added three field goals as Clemson fell to 0-5 in nationally televised Thursday night games.
The Wolfpack was coming off a 31-24 win against Connecticut, earned when Freddie Aughtry-Lindsay had a 56-yard interception return for a touchdown with five seconds left. While the Wolfpack played solid defense Thursday, the Tigers didn’t help themselves with several dropped passes. They also had 94 yards in penalties.
“Dropped passes and penalties,” Clemson coach Tommy Bowden said. “With two evenly matched teams, that was the difference.”
Clemson had won three of the last four meetings here, but the Wolfpack took an 11-point lead early in the fourth quarter and held off a comeback attempt by the Tigers.
The Wolfpack held a 7-6 halftime lead and increased the margin on its first drive of the second half.
With N.C. State facing a third-and-1 from Clemson’s 37-yard line, the Tigers’ defensive front jumped offsides. Rivers took the snap and immediately lofted a pass to Washington down the right sideline.
Washington got a step on Tye Hill, stretched out to make the catch and fell into the end zone for a 14-6 lead with 10:18 left in the third quarter.
N.C. State pushed the lead to 17-6 on a 27-yard field goal from Adam Kiker with 14:49 left, ending a 14-play drive that took five minutes off the clock. Clemson committed two personal fouls to help keep the drive alive.
The Tigers scored on their next two drives to get back into the game, beginning with a 21-yard field goal from Hunt to cut the margin to eight with 10:04 left.
After holding N.C. State to a three-and-out, Clemson put together a 65-yard scoring drive. Charlie Whitehurst found Bobby Williamson over the middle for a 23-yard pass play, leading to a 5-yard scoring run from Jasmin that cut the deficit to 17-15 with 6:01 to play.
But the Tigers came up short on the 2-point try, as Tony Elliott couldn’t haul in Whitehurst’s low pass to the back of the end zone.
Clemson had a final chance to win, but Whitehurst’s pass for Kevin Youngblood was tipped by Pat Thomas and intercepted by Dovonte Edwards with about four minutes left. The Wolfpack then ran out the clock to seal the win.
“Defensively I’d have never guessed it would be 17-15,” Wolfpack coach Chuck Amato said. “I would have guessed a two-point game, but I thought the numbers would be a lot higher.”
N.C. State got on the board first, putting together a 13-play, 67-yard drive that took more than 7 1/2 minutes off the clock. Rivers ended the drive with his 4-yard scoring toss to McLendon with 1:22 left in the quarter.
Clemson answered with a 15-play, 56-yard drive that took 6:58 off the clock. Hunt ended the drive with a 28-yard field goal with 9:24 left in the half.
The Wolfpack came up empty on their next drive when John Leake recovered a fumble by Rivers, ending the Wolfpack’s 12-play drive. That led to Hunt’s 34-yard field goal with nine seconds left, cutting the deficit to 7-6 at halftime.
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