By Bryant Stone
Clemson’s homecoming game versus North Carolina will mark the continuing tradition of one of the most evenly matched series in Tiger history. Clemson leads the all-time series against the Tar Heels 31-17-1 and has defeated UNC two consecutive years under Head Coach Tommy Bowden following three straight UNC victories by seven points or more. The Tigers also won six out of the 10 contests against the Tar Heels in the 1990s, and among those victories was their largest ever over UNC, a 40-7 victory at Death Valley in 1992. It was also the largest margin of victory in Clemson history against a ranked team.
Clemson currently holds a 15-6 home record all-time against North Carolina and a 14-10-1 record in games played in Chapel Hill. The Tigers are 13-9-1 in games at UNC’s Kenan Stadium, and last year’s Tiger victory there featured the biggest Clemson comeback since 1992. After falling behind 17-0 in the first half, the adversity facing the Tigers seemed to take an overwhelming turn. Quarterback Woodrow Dantzler, the Tigers’ Heisman Trophy candidate, left the game with 6:32 remaining before halftime when he injured his foot on a 24-yard quarterback scramble. Stepping into his place was redshirt freshman Willie Simmons, who revived the Tiger offense with a 29-yard touchdown pass to Jackie Robinson 50 seconds after his arrival.
Simmons recorded the highest single-game passing yardage of the season to that point, completing 10 of 18 passes for 228 yards and throwing four touchdowns, three to first-round NFL draft choice Rod Gardner. The Tigers outscored the Tar Heels 38-7 for the remainder of the game and also showcased one of their best defensive efforts of the season. Defensive captain Chad Carson and former All-American linebacker Keith Adams led the Tigers with 16 and 15 tackles, respectively, and Adams’ first interception of his career with less than four minutes to play gave the Tigers the ball at North Carolina’s two yard line. Running back Travis Zachery’s scoring run two plays later sealed the victory for the Tigers, 38-24.
By erasing a 17-point deficit, the Tigers staged their largest come from behind victory since 1992, when they wiped out a 28-point halftime deficit against the Virginia Cavaliers in Charlottesville, VA, to win 29-28. Clemson maintained its number-five ranking in the AP poll and its win over North Carolina was its eighth consecutive of the 2000 campaign en route to a 9-3 record and a second-place finish in the ACC.
A Clemson victory in 2001 would give the Tigers their longest winning streak against North Carolina since their seven-game win streak from 1986-1992.
North Carolina’s longest winning streak against the Tigers took place from 1969-1972, when the Tar Heels won four straight games by at least 13 points. UNC’s biggest victory against Clemson took place in 1996 they beat the Tigers 45-0 in the season opener for both schools.
The only tie in series history came on Nov. 5, 1977, in one of the most exciting games in series history. Charlie Pell’s 7-1 Tigers came to Kenan Stadium to face the 6-2 Tar Heels in a critical late-season ACC contest. Clemson took the lead 13-10 with 11:13 to play in regulation, but kicker Obed Ariri missed the ensuing extra point, marking his first miss of the season. North Carolina’s defense would stand tall after the Tiger score, giving their offense hope, and with 58 seconds left, Tom Biddle booted a 30-yard field goal to ensure the game ‘s finish, with the teams deadlocked at 13-13. North Carolina went on to win the ACC Championship that season, with Clemson coming in a close second.
Two sets of plays in the early 1980s have managed to shape not only the history of this rivalry, but also the history of Tiger football. The nationally ranked 7-1 Tar Heels came to Death Valley in 1980 to face a hungry 5-3 Tiger squad. With only a few minutes to play, the Tigers found themselves down by five and driving down the field. With first and goal on the Tar Heel one-yard line, running back Wilbur Bullard (who had gained 43 of his 47 career rushing yards in the fourth quarter) was hit twice for no gain. On third and goal, quarterback Homer Jordan dropped back to pass but was sacked by Lawrence Taylor for a nine-yard loss. Jordan overthrew receiver Jerry Gaillard in the end zone on fourth down, and the Tar Heels took over on downs and ran out the clock for a 24-19 victory.
In 1981, the second-ranked and undefeated Tigers went to Chapel Hill looking for revenge against the eighth-ranked Tar Heels. The events of the final minutes of this game, as it would turn out, would completely redefine the history of Clemson football and helped lead to the Tigers’ place among the perennial football powers of recent memory.
North Carolina took possession on its own two-yard line following a “coffin corner” punt by Dale Hatcher that went out of bounds. Tar Heel quarterback Scott Stankavage directed UNC to the 40-yard line following three first-down conversions. On first and 10, Stankavage threw a lateral pass incomplete to Alan Burrus. While Burrus pouted over the incompletion, Clemson All-American defensive tackle Jeff Bryant ran about ten hustling yards and fell on the ball. Having been ruled a lateral, the Tigers took the ball with 57 seconds to play and won, 10-8. The next morning, the headline of the Greenville News read, “Tigers are 10-8cious.”
Clemson continued with wins in 1982, 1983 and 1984. William Perry, Clemson’s first three-time All-American played a big role in all of these wins. In 1984 he took over the game on North Carolina’s final drive of the fourth period. He recorded tackles on three consecutive plays, including two behind the line of scrimmage.
Amazingly, only 43 total points separates these two rivals, who have the third longest standing rivalry in Tiger football history. After facing off for the first time in 1897, the Tar Heels and Tigers would meet only five times in the ensuing 18 years and did not compete against each other from 1915 to 1957. Today however will mark the 45th consecutive meeting between these schools, and needless to say, there have been some intense barnburners in the past. With the ACC Championship race shaping up to be one of the widest open in recent memory, the Tigers should have their paws full this weekend.
Bryant Stone is a junior from Fairfax, VA and is a student assistant in the Clemson Sports Information Office.
September 30, 2023