Sept. 24, 2001
By Sam Blackman
When looking at the Clemson-Virginia series in football, the series looks one sided in favor of Clemson. The Tigers lead the overall series with Virginia 34-5-1, but in the last 10 seasons, the Tigers have just a 5-4-1 record vs. the Cavaliers. The Tigers won the first 29 games in the series that started in1955. The Cavaliers finally broke the streak in 1990, but the Cavaliers had a few chances to break the infamous streak with Clemson through the years, but the Tigers always had an answer. Some observers would swear Clemson had a rabbit’s foot or other token with them when playing the Cavaliers. Three of Clemson’s four greatest comebacks have come against the Virginia Cavaliers.
In the first meeting on Sept. 24, 1955, Clemson won easily 20-7. In 1956, the Tigers won 7-0, which gave Clemson the ACC Championship, Charlie Bussey scored on a one-yard run with 53 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
It took some mystical powers in the 1966 game, for the Tigers to win. It was fortunate for Clemson that former IPTAY Executive Secretary Gene Willimon acted when he did. Otherwise Clemson might not have beaten Virginia, 40-35, on Sept. 24, 1966, in the season opener for the Tigers.
It was Willimon’s idea to put a rock from Death Valley, CA on a pedestal on top of the hill during the summer of 1966, where the Tigers enter the stadium and make their famous entrance. Alumnus S.C. Jones gave Coach Frank Howard the rock after a visit to Death Valley, CA. Jones must have thought it to be an appropriate gift to Howard as the stadium has been called Death Valley by friend and foe alike for many years prior to 1966.
Howard told Willimon to do something with the rock. Willimon had a brainstorm and immediately came up with the idea of putting it on a pedestal overlooking the playing field where it still sits today, more than 35 years later.
Even though the players did not begin touching the rock for good luck until a year later, the rock must have brought the Tigers good luck, or as former Head Coach Frank Howard states, “mystical powers” in the 40-35 win over Virginia in 1966. The Tigers managed to win despite losing five fumbles and giving up 429 yards total offense. It was obvious some kind of strange powers must have been with the Tigers on this particular day.
It also did not hurt the Tigers’ chances, that Buddy Gore rushed for 117 yards in this game, and Clemson’s Jimmy Addison was 12 for 19 in passing for 283 yards, still the second most passing yardage in Clemson history.
The Tigers went ahead in the ACC contest early in the second period on the strength of a 68-yard punt return by Frank Liberatore, a touchdown pass from Addison to Phil Rogers and the running of Buddy Gore. The second and third quarters belonged solely to the Bob Davis-led Cavaliers, and with the help of Clemson fumbles, Virginia took a 35-18 lead with 3:06 left to go in the third quarter.
Edgar McGee, Phil Rogers and Wayne Bell caught key passes to bring Clemson to a 35-33 deficit with about three minutes to play. Faced with a third down and short yardage on Clemson’s 25-yard line, the Tigers were driving for the go-ahead score. “We called a pass play that had resulted in several earlier completions to our split end Wayne Bell,” recalled Clemson quarterback Jimmy Addison.
“Wayne found an open spot between the linebackers, and the Virginia cornerback came from his deep position to cover the open receiver. Jacky Jackson, who had run from his tailback position down the left sideline, made a beautiful catch behind that cornerback and out-ran the safety man to the end zone.” That gave the Tigers a 40-35 advantage with 3:49 left and proved to be the winning touchdown. “I remember this play distinctly”, said Addison who later would attend law school at Virginia. “I thought I had over-thrown Jackson, but he put it in second gear and ran underneath the pass.”
However the Cavaliers had one more chance and Davis marched Virginia down the field. With 1:49 left to go in the game, the Cavaliers had a second and 10 situation on the Tigers’ 14-yard line. Davis’s pass was intercepted by Phil Marion and the Tigers proceeded to run out the clock.
Jimmy Addison was the Associated Press Back-of-the-Week, while Virginia’s Quarterback Bob Davis was named Sports Illustrated’s Back-of-the-Week. It is probably the only time two opposing players in the same game have been named national players-of-the-week in the history of college football.
Davis set the Atlantic Coast Conference’s record for most passes attempted and completed, records that have since been broken. He finished the game hitting 26 of 48 passes for 312 yards, while the Tigers’ Addison was 12 for 19 in passing for 283 yards and three scores. Addison is still third on the Clemson individual highest single game passing efficiency list for his performance against the Cavaliers with a 240.39 mark, but it is first among Tiger quarterbacks who have thrown at least 15 passes in a game.
“As someone suggested on the sidelines during the fourth quarter,” continued Addison, “the university should have run everyone out of the stadium before the fourth quarter and made them pay to re-enter.” It was truly a ball game worth two admissions.
On Oct. 13, 1973, Virginia took a 27-18 lead late in the third quarter as former Tiger player Mike Lacika fell on a Clemson fumble in the Tiger end zone.
Clemson’s Frank Wise recovered a Kent Merritt fumble at the Virginia 28, and six plays later Smiley Sanders went the last two yards up the middle. Bob Burgess added the PAT and the Tigers were down 27-25 with 12:23 left in the game. After three exchanges of the ball on punts, Clemson again had possession on its own 42 with 7:50 to play. On the fourth play of the drive, Ken Pengitore hit Lanzendoen for an eight-yard touchdown. Burgess’ PAT with 6:44 to play gave Clemson its first lead at 32-27.
Jim Ness intercepted a Virginia pass but four plays later Ken Callicutt fumbled, the Tigers’ fourth lost fumble of the game and the Cavaliers had it at their own 26 with 4:15 remaining.
Six plays later, Virginia had it first and ten at the Clemson 20 looking for the go-ahead score. But after a couple of runs which netted one yard and an incomplete pass, the Wahoos had a fourth and nine at Clemson’s 17. George Allen, Jr. dropped back, scrambled, threw to tight end Ken Shelton, but freshman Travers Webb brought the Wahoo tight end down on the Clemson 11, three yards short of the first down and the Tigers took over with just 56 seconds to go. But the game was not over as the Cav defense held and forced a punting situation with a fourth and 12 at the 10. Nine seconds remained as Clemson took a delay penalty.
Clemson punter Mitch Tyner, who had been instructed to take a safety and receive a free kick, took the snap deep in the Tiger end zone, waited for the rush, then scampered right, then left, away form the Cavalier Linemen, and finally turned up the field. There was no time left on the clock when Tyner was bumped out of bounds at the 14, thus preventing Virginia from having another play and preserving Clemson’s five-point victory. The game consisted of 59 points and 900 yards of total offense between the two teams.
Obed Ariri kicked a 52-yard field goal with six seconds remaining to cap a furious fourth-quarter comeback that gave Clemson a 27-24 victory on Oct. 11, 1980. Trailing by 14 points going into the fourth quarter, the Tigers scored a touchdown on a 26-yard run by Brendon Crite after a perfect pitch by quarterback Homer Jordan. Then with less than four minutes remaining, Willie Underwood blocked a punt, Bill Smith scooped up the ball, and ran 11 yards for the tying TD. The Tigers’ defense held and a short Tiger drive setup Ariri’s clutch field goal.
On Oct. 8, 1988, Virginia took a 7-3 lead with 5:27 remaining in the game as quarterback Shawn Moore hit receiver Herman Moore in the end zone on a 14-yard alley-oop scoring strike.
With time running down, the Tigers took over at their own 20-yardline and drove to the Virginia 14. Chip Davis lined up at wideout without any defensive coverage and Rodney Williams took advantage of the situation, changing the play at the line of scrimmage and passing for a 14-yard touchdown.
On Sept. 8, 1990, ninth-ranked Clemson faced 14th-Virginia in the second game of the season. The Cavaliers were outstanding on defense and on special teams and defeated Clemson for the first time ever. The Tigers had a perfect 29-0 record against Virginia heading into the game that was televised by ESPN.
Clemson scored first with a DeChane Cameron 25-yard run early in the second quarter. Virginia scored two field goals in the second quarter and Clemson led 7-6 at the half. Virginia’s Terry Kirby scored on a four-yard run. Later in the quarter, Jason Wallace returned a punt 79 yards to the Clemson seven-yard line. This set up a 12-yard scoring pass from Shawn Moore to Herman Moore, giving Virginia a 20-7 lead heading into the final period. Clemson drove inside the Cavalier 35 twice in the fourth period, but failed to score both times.
On Oct. 12, 1991, the Tigers scored 10 points in the last four minutes of the game and the two teams tied 20-20 at Clemson. The Cavaliers had a 20-10 lead with 7:30 left in the game. Clemson’s Rudy Harris , who had 102 yards rushing on the day, scored from one yard out with 3:22 left bringing Clemson to within three. The Cavs tried to run out the clock and gain their second straight victory over the Tigers. On a third and two from the Virginia 45, Terry Kirby was hit by Clemson’s Robert O’Neal at the Virginia 48, a spot that was already a Cavalier first down. Clemson’s Kenzil Jackson recovered the fumble with 2:49 left and Clemson still had hope.
Clemson drove to the Virginia 27 and Nelson Welch hit the clutch 44-yard field goal with 46 seconds left to tie the score. The Cavs drove deep into Clemson territory, but with one second left, Michael Husted lined up for a 34-yard field goal. Wayne Simmons got a hand on the ball and the kick was wide, allowing Clemson to gain the tie.
Oct. 10, 1992, was a landmark date in Clemson history. Clemson overcame a 28-point deficit in defeating 10th-ranked Virginia 29-28. It was just the third win over a top-10 team on the road in Clemson history.
Virginia took a 28-0 lead in the second quarter, with quarterback Bobby Goodman throwing four touchdown passes. Clemson scored with 1:53 remaining when quarterback Louis Solomon, who replaced the injured Richard Moncreif took the ball for a 64-yard scoring rush making the halftime score 28-7 in Virginia’s favor.
Clemson started the second half with two rushing touchdowns from Rudy Harris and Rodney Blunt to cut Virginia’s leads to 28-20 heading into the final period. With just 5:31 left in the contest, Harris, who had 12 carries for 96 yards and two touchdowns in the game, bullied his way for the score from 27 yards out. A two-point conversion failed but the lead was now cut to 28-26.
A Darnell Stephens interception gave Clemson possession at the Virginia 35 with 3:53 left in the game. A 45-yard pass from Solomon to Larry Ryans put the ball at the Virginia nine. Three plays later Nelson Welch completed the comeback with a 32-yard field goal for a 29-28 Tiger win.
The comeback was the greatest in Clemson football history in terms of gaining victory after trailing by the largest deficit at any time in a game. In fact, it was just three points away from tying the national record for the greatest comeback in college football history.
Sam Blackman is the Clemson Associate Sports Information Director.
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