Note: The following appears in the NC State gameday football program
It was a thrilling victory over NC State on Oct. 2, 1948. A young George Bennett wanted to take part in the Clemson tradition (yes, it was going strong in the 1940s) of going on the field after the game to greet head coach Frank Howard and the Tiger players to celebrate the victory.
“I remember congratulating the players just like we do today, and then I walked to the east (Hill) endzone,” recalled Bennett, now 83 and a member of the of the Clemson Hall of Fame as an administrator.
“I walked to that goal line and there was a trench right in front of the goal line. It showed me how the Clemson defensive line had dug in to hold NC State out of the endzone late in the game.”
The Tigers won that 1948 game 6-0 thanks to a 90-yard punt return by Bobby Gage, still the second longest in the history of Memorial Stadium, and thanks to one of the greatest goal-line stands in Clemson history.
“We held them out of the endzone on their last drive on four straight plays from the one-yard line,” said Bennett, who was a high school student in Columbia at the time. “It was one of the best goal-line stands I have ever seen.”
This is just one of the great stories of close victories over NC State for the Tigers, who hold a 57-28-1 advantage in the series with the Wolfpack that dates to 1899. Clemson won the 1902 game at Clemson by a score of 11-5, the first of 24 wins by the Tigers in the series by seven points or less.
Those 24 wins by seven points or less are the most by the Tigers against any opponent by far. Clemson has 16 such wins against South Carolina and Wake Forest. The Tigers have more victories over both the Gamecocks (69) and Demon Deacons (66) than any other opponent.
While Clemson has a strong advantage in the series in close games, NC State has some landmark close wins as well. In Danny Ford’s first two years as Clemson’s head coach, the Wolfpack won consecutive games by four points or less, 16-13 at Death Valley in 1979 and 24-20 in Raleigh in 1980.
Ford had many close games with NC State, and you would have to say the Wolfpack would rank as his nemesis team during his career. Clemson won the ACC championship in 1986, 1987 and 1988, but lost to NC State each year, twice by a touchdown or less.
In 1987, Clemson was 6-0 and ranked No. 7 in the nation entering the October 24 game at Memorial Stadium. NC State was just 2-4, but it took a 30-0 lead into the locker room at halftime, when Ford told his team it was going to junk the gameplan and throw the ball on nearly every down.
You could stump a lot of people by telling them that Rodney Williams still holds the school record for passing attempts in a half. He threw it 46 times in that second half and led the Tigers on a furious comeback.
Combined with a blitzing Michael Dean Perry, who had a career-high five tackles for loss, Clemson came within 30-28 late in the game. The Tigers got the ball back with a minute left and a chance to win on a field goal, but a fourth-down pass failed and NC State hung on for the win.
NC State ended the season with a 4-7 record, and it was one of just four times that Ford lost to a team that finished the season with a losing record. Clemson finished that year 10-2 and ranked No. 12 in the AP poll.
In 1984, Clemson won at NC State 35-34, a game in which there was no scoring in the fourth quarter. It was the highest-scoring game decided by one point in Clemson history until Pittsburgh defeated the Tigers 43-42 in 2016.
Clemson has beaten NC State 13 of the last 14 years, and five wins were by a touchdown or less, including the last two. The Tigers are 24-11-1 in games decided by seven points or less in the series, a 68.1 winning percentage.
Clemson won the 1993 game at home by a score of 20-14 when Tim Jones broke up the last two passes in the endzone. It is one of four games a Tiger has clinched a win with a late interception or pass breakup at the Clemson nine-yard line or closer in the last 25 years.
The only time the Tigers defeated the Wolfpack with a score inside the last 25 seconds took place in Raleigh in 1997, when Matt Padgett kicked a 20-yard field goal with 19 seconds left to give Clemson a 19-17 victory.
The Tigers have won five games in a row in games decided by seven points or less against the Wolfpack dating to a 26-20 win in 2004. That game was decided on the last play when Charles Bennett intercepted a pass at the four-yard line.
The Tigers have not lost a game decided by seven points or less to NC State since a 17-15 Wolfpack win in 2003 in Raleigh in a battle of future NFL quarterbacks Charlie Whitehurst (Clemson) and Philip Rivers (NC State).
NC State’s last win in a game decided by seven or less at Clemson took place on Oct. 31, 1998, a 46-39 victory when future Pro Football Hall of Famer Torry Holt had a four-yard receiving touchdown. Current Tiger quarterbacks coach Brandon Streeter was Clemson’s signal-caller in that game and had an outstanding afternoon, completing 27-38 passes for 329 yards and three touchdowns. It was the second-highest passing yardage total of his career.
You can make the argument that only Alabama has played Clemson tougher than the Wolfpack during the last two years.
In 2016, when Clemson was on the way to winning the national championship, Dabo Swinney’s Tigers won 24-17 in overtime in Death Valley. NC State only needed a 33-yard field goal on the last play of regulation to upset the No. 3 Tigers, but the field goal was wide right.
Clemson scored a touchdown on the first possession in overtime on a pass from Deshaun Watson to Artavis Scott, then Marcus Edmond clinched the win with an interception in the east endzone on NC State’s first overtime play, the same endzone where George Bennett watched the Clemson defense “dig in” in 1948.
In 2017, NC State had a 21-17 lead at halftime and was within seven points early in the fourth quarter. With the Wolfpack trailing 38-31 late in the game, K’Von Wallace intercepted a Ryan Finley pass to ice the game.
A victory by seven points or less today would make this just the third time in history that Clemson wins three games in a row over an ACC opponent by seven points or less. The Tigers defeated Duke each year from 1965-67 by a touchdown or less, and the Tigers duplicated the feat the first three times they faced Louisville as an ACC opponent from 2014-16.
With two unbeaten and top-25 teams in Memorial Stadium today, chances are good for another close game.