By Tim Bourret // Athletic Communications
Vic Beasley’s breathtaking, remarkable and record-tying sack, caused fumble, recovered fumble and touchdown against NC State, all on the same play, on October 4 inspired me to reflect on the greatest plays I have witnessed in Memorial Stadium by a Tiger. I guess I am as qualified as anyone, as today will be my 237th consecutive game at Memorial Stadium and my 433rd overall.
Here are my top-10 most memorable plays (in chronological order) since I first came to Clemson with the Notre Dame team in November 1977.
WILLIE UNDERWOOD1980 South Carolina GameWith the score 13-6 in favor of the Tigers in the fourth quarter, Willie Underwood stepped in front of a Garry Harper pass and returned it 37 yards for a touchdown. It was the second interception of the day for Underwood, who was playing his final game as a Tiger. Those were the only interceptions of his 47-game career. Underwood also had 17 tackles in run support and was named national defensive player-of-the-week by Sports Illustrated.
KEVIN MACK1983 Maryland GameAnother senior playing in his final game in Death Valley had a memorable performance and memorable play. Kevin Mack gained 186 yards on 30 carries on the day Clemson fans set a Guinness World Record for the largest balloon launch (363,729) as the Tigers ran down the Hill. On Mack’s final carry in Memorial Stadium, he ran 42 yards for a touchdown with just one shoe.
WILLIAM PERRY1984 Wake Forest GameWilliam Perry could have many entries on this list. But his most memorable play at home as a Tiger took place on a special-teams play. Early in the game, Wake Forest was faced with a fourth-and-one near midfield. Clemson coaches thought the Demon Deacons would run a fake, so they left their regular defense on the field. But Wake Forest decided to punt and Perry bull-rushed the center, then plowed into the blocking back with such force that he knocked the blocker into punter Harry Newsome. His punt went off the backside of the upback and rolled 36 yards behind the original line of scrimmage. Perry was credited with a blocked punt without touching the ball, and statistically was credited with a 36-yard punt return, the most unusual entry on his career stat line.
“SAFETY CELEBRATION”1987 Georgia GameThis is the only play on the list that is a team play. Clemson had pinned Georgia on its own one with a punt. The Tigers trailed Georgia 20-16 and hoped to gain great field position. Instead, a group of Tiger defenders, led by Michael Dean Perry, Gene Beasley, Vince Taylor and James Lott, chased quarterback James Jackson to the ground in the endzone. It set off a safety celebration that moved the momentum in Clemson’s favor. The Tigers then drove for a winning field goal with just two seconds left on the next possession to win 21-20.
DONNELL WOOLFORD & JOE HENDERSON1987 Georgia Tech GameEntering the Georgia Tech game in 1987, Clemson had not returned a punt or a kickoff for a touchdown in 17 years. Then on Sept. 26, 1987, the Tigers had one of each against the Yellow Jackets. First, Donnell Woolford returned a punt 78 yards for a score. Prior to Woolford’s return, Clemson had gone 999 total kick returns without a touchdown. In the fourth quarter, Joe Henderson snapped the kickoff-return drought that had dated to 1962 with a 95-yard return for a score.
ROD GARDNER2000 South Carolina GameIn the 73 years of home games at Memorial Stadium, Rod Gardner’s catch to set up a winning field goal in 2000 is probably the favorite in the minds of many Clemson fans. The Tigers trailed South Carolina 14-13 with under 20 seconds left. Woodrow Dantzler rolled to his left and lofted the ball towards Gardner, who was covered by a couple of South Carolina defenders on the Clemson sideline. But Gardner negotiated the traffic and made the catch for a 50-yard gain. Seven seconds later, Aaron Hunt kicked a 25-yard field goal to give Clemson its fourth straight victory over South Carolina.
C.J. SPILLER2006 Georgia Tech GameThis was a breakout game for freshman C.J. Spiller. ESPN College GameDay was in town for the first time and both teams were ranked in the top 13 in the nation. He had a 50-yard rushing touchdown and a 50-yard receiving touchdown. Spiller took a swing pass from Will Proctor near the Georgia Tech sideline and put on consecutive moves that sent multiple defenders to the turf.
JACOBY FORD2008 South Carolina GamePerhaps the greatest trick play by Clemson in Memorial Stadium took place in 2008 against South Carolina. Like C.J. Spiller’s reception against Georgia Tech in 2006, it was a 50-yard play, but this time the receiver was Spiller’s classmate and close friend, Jacoby Ford. With the Tigers at midfield, Ford knelt down as if to tie his shoe near the Tiger sideline. After the ball was snapped, Ford raced down the sideline. Cullen Harper was nearly sacked but got rid of the ball in time to hit a wide-open Ford, who was never seen by the Gamecock secondary. The Tigers took a 17-0 lead on the way to a 31-14 victory that clinched the full-time head coaching position for 38-year-old Dabo Swinney.
CHANDLER CATANZARO2011 Wake Forest GameThe Tigers trailed Wake Forest by 14 points with just 20 minutes left. But Tajh Boyd led a comeback with two passing touchdowns. He then drove the Tigers to the Wake Forest 26 with a few seconds left. Chandler Catanzaro came on to boot a 43-yard field goal, the only walkoff field goal in the history of Memorial Stadium. Hard to believe that is the only one in 73 years.
VIC BEASLEY2014 NC State GameVic Beasley’s sack, caused fumble, recovered fumble and touchdown against NC State was breathtaking in its execution in addition to being historically significant. Beasley engulfed Jacoby Brissett, forced the ball loose, snatched the ball out of midair and raced 16 yards for a score. The play gave Beasley a sack, the 28th of his career, tying him with former All-Americans Michael Dean Perry and Gaines Adams for most in Tiger history. Defensively, it is probably the most-revered record in the Clemson recordbook, and he did it with style.
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