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Sep 07, 2023

Reunion Teams | 1973, 1998, 2013, 2018

By: Tim Bourret

Note: The following appears in the Charleston Southern football gameday program.

This weekend, we honor the Clemson teams celebrating their 50th, 25th, 10th and fifth anniversaries. We appreciate their contributions to the heritage of Clemson football. Below are some season highlights.

50-Year Anniversary

The 1973 season ushered in the Red Parker era at Clemson. Parker was known for his ability as a recruiter, and this asset set the program on good footing for the late 1970s and 1980s. The players he recruited in 1973 and beyond were leaders of the 1977 team that set Clemson in motion to be one of the top programs in the nation for nearly 50 years.

The final record for the 1973 season was 5-6, but the Tigers finished 4-2 in the ACC, third in the league. The two conference losses were to NC State and Maryland, two teams that finished ranked in the top 20 of the AP poll.

The four ACC wins came against Virginia, Duke, Wake Forest and North Carolina. The Virginia and North Carolina victories were the two most exciting.

Against Virginia in Death Valley on Oct. 13, the Tigers trailed by 14 points (20-6) in the first half. No one on the Clemson team that year would have believed I would write about this game years later as a season highlight.

The Tigers drove to the Virginia three on their first possession, but quarterback Ken Pengitore fumbled and the Cavaliers recovered. After a 72-yard run by Kent Merritt, Virginia scored to take a 6-0 lead.

Clemson came back in the second quarter to score 18 points, but it still trailed at halftime. The Tigers were behind 27-18 entering the fourth quarter when Pengitore made amends for his first-drive mistake. He took the Tigers on two touchdown drives in the fourth quarter, with the last score coming on a 29-yard touchdown pass to Jim Lanzendoen that gave Clemson a 32-27 victory.

Lanzendoen finished the day with 141 receiving yards, at the time the third most in a game in Tiger history. Pengitore led the team in rushing with 83 yards on 22 carries, while Smiley Sanders added 76 yards on 16 carries. Pengitore was efficient by completing 15-23 passes for 239 yards.

The wins over Virginia and North Carolina were two of three games Clemson had at least 200 rushing yards and 200 passing yards in the same contest. Pengitore had a game at North Carolina that would make today’s quarterbacks smile, as he had 100 yards on the ground (96 in the first half) and 212 yards in the air, completing 12-17 passes.

Even with this offensive execution, the game came down to defense in the final minute. Trailing 37-29, North Carolina quarterback Nick Vidnovic was picked off by Clemson’s Lynn Carson at the Clemson 11 with just 42 seconds left to preserve the Tiger win.

25-Year Anniversary

The highlight of the 1998 season came in the final game when the Tigers defeated South Carolina 28-19 at Death Valley. The contest was played in front of 84,423 fans, at the time the largest crowd in Memorial Stadium history. The home victory ended an NCAA-record seven consecutive wins by the road team in the series.

There were many heroes in this game, including senior Howard Bartley, who had a 48-yard interception return for a touchdown. It was the first touchdown of Bartley’s career in his final game as a Tiger.

Running backs Travis Zachery and Javis Austin both had at least 50 rushing yards and exactly 32 receiving yards, as quarterback Brandon Streeter repeatedly went to his running backs in passing situations. Austin added two touchdowns, one on a reception and one on the ground.

Those who attended the game will always remember Clemson players carrying Tommy West along with his wife and son.

The 1998 Tigers had a strong defense, a unit that had six players drafted by the NFL, a big reason Clemson finished in the top 25 in the nation in rushing defense and scoring defense.

The group was led by first-round draft pick Antwan Edwards, second-round selection Rahim Abdullah and fifth-round pick Adrian Dingle. Edwards was 10th in the nation in kickoff return average, Abdullah had 89 tackles, including 15 tackles for loss, and Dingle set a school record for sacks in a season (10.5). He broke the record of 10 that had been held by Michael Dean Perry, Jim Stuckey and William Perry.

Clemson was led on the offensive side of the ball by Streeter. He became the first Tiger to record at least two 300-yard passing games in a single season. He completed 27-38 passes for 329 yards against NC State. The completion and yardage totals were a Clemson record at the time.

The Tigers led the nation with six defensive players taken in the 1999 NFL draft, one more than North Carolina and Florida. The six selections were the most by a Tiger team since the 1991 season.

10-Year Anniversary

The 2013 season was a landmark year in Clemson history because of the seeds of success against prominent programs that were planted. The Tigers finished the season with an 11-2 record, including a 7-1 mark in the ACC. The Tigers finished ranked No. 7 in the USA Today coaches poll and No. 8 in the AP poll.

Clemson began the year with a 38-35 win over No. 5 Georgia and finished the year with a 40-35 win over No. 6 Ohio State. In between, the Tigers scored 50+ points five times, a record for a season at the time. That included consecutive wins over Virginia (59-10), Georgia Tech (55-31) and The Citadel (52-6).

The Tiger offense was led by senior Tajh Boyd, wide receivers Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant and running back Roderick McDowell.

Boyd completed 283 passes for 3,851 yards, passed for 34 touchdowns and added 400 rushing yards. He completed his career with 107 passing touchdowns and 133 combined touchdowns rushing and passing, both ACC records at the time. His pass efficiency rating of 168.7 set a Clemson record as well.

Few will forget the performance Boyd and Watkins had against Ohio State in their respective final games at Clemson. Boyd passed for 378 yards and rushed for 127 yards for a 505 total yards, an Orange Bowl record and still the fourth-most yards in school history.

Watkins caught 16 of Boyd’s 31 completions for 227 yards and two touchdowns. The reception total and yardage total still stand as Clemson records. Watkins finished the season with a school-record 101 receptions for a school-record 1,464 yards. He was the No. 4 overall pick of the NFL draft at the end of the season.

Clemson had a 3,500-yard passer, 1,400-yard receiver and 1,000-yard rusher in 2013. McDowell was that top rusher with 1,025 yards on only 189 carries.

The 2013 defense also had standouts, led by junior Vic Beasley, who had 23 tackles for loss and 13 sacks. He was named a consensus first-team All-American. Future first-round draft pick Stephone Anthony had a banner year as well.

Five-Year Anniversary

It is hard to believe that it has been five years since Clemson’s 2018 national championship season. It was an unforgettable year in which the Tigers finished with a 15-0 record, the first 15-0 team since Penn in 1897.

While Clemson finished with a perfect record and No. 1 final ranking, the Tigers were not ranked No. 1 in the AP poll until after the national championship game victory over the Crimson Tide. Alabama was renowned as possibly the greatest team in history before the Tigers defeated the Crimson Tide by 28 points.

As dominant as Clemson was during the 2018 season, the Tigers would not have played the ACC Championship Game had not reserve freshman quarterback Chase Brice come off the bench against Syracuse to lead the Tigers to a come-from-behind 27-23 win. The Orange went on to a 6-2 record in the ACC Atlantic Division, and had they beaten Clemson, Syracuse would have had the tiebreaker.

Clemson posted a 15-0 record against a schedule that included a school-record 12 games against teams that finished with a winning record. The Tigers played the nation’s most difficult schedule in terms of opponent winning percentage (64.2).

The Tigers won an ACC-record 13 games by 20+ points, surpassing 2013 Florida State’s record of 12. Clemson’s average victory margin of 31.1 points per game was the highest in the nation and second highest in school history.

The 2018 Tigers were among the most talented in school history, with seven players earning first, second or third-team All-America honors. That included three defensive linemen, as Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence and Clelin Ferrell all made at least one first-team All-America squad.

Eighteen Tigers made First, Second or Third-Team All-ACC, the most in a season in school history.

Clemson averaged 44.3 points per game and 527 yards per game, both school records.

In addition to the accomplishments on the field, Clemson won the AFCA Academic Achievement Award for the first time, becoming just the third program to win the honor and the national title in the same year. Clemson joined Notre Dame (1988) and Alabama (2017) with that distinction.

Leading the way in terms of academic honors was Wilkins, who won the Campbell Trophy from the National Football Foundation. The honor is known as the “Academic Heisman Trophy.”