WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – DJ Uiagalelei kept delivering the ball on target downfield for No. 5 Clemson in a shootout with No. 21 Wake Forest.
That offered enough cover for a defense that struggled for stops — right up until finally coming up with the winning play to cap a double-overtime classic.
Nate Wiggins broke up Sam Hartman's fourth-down pass in the end zone to help the Tigers hold off the Demon Deacons 51-45 on Saturday. That marked their 14th straight win in the series, this one coming in a tense road game pairing two of the Atlantic Coast Conference's top teams.
Uiagalelei threw for 375 yards and five touchdowns to lead Clemson (4-0, 2-0 ACC), including the go-ahead score over the middle to Davis Allen to start the second overtime.
"Honestly, man, that was a crazy game,” Uiagalelei said, adding: “You could just see the heart of our team — the heart of the offense, the heart of the defense. When plays had to be made, we made the plays. That just shows a great sign of a good football team.”
Or, at the least, plenty of perseverance — particularly for Wiggins.
He had been targeted frequently by Hartman and the Wake Forest receivers but came through to knock away Hartman’s final ball for A.T. Perry. He fell to the end zone turf, then sprung up to join his team in celebration after a wild shootout between the reigning Atlantic Division champion Demon Deacons and the preseason league favorite Tigers.
Before that stop, Wiggins had thrice been flagged for pass interference in an injury-battered secondary and was beaten on Donavon Greene's 25-yard TD haul.
“The only good thing about the game (defensively) is we gave up six touchdown passes — we didn't give up seven,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said with a chuckle. “That's the only good thing I can say. And they never quit and they kept battling and they played one more play — and Nate came up with it right there at the end."
Hartman threw for 337 yards and the six TDs to set a program record for Wake Forest (3-1, 0-1), including two each to Greene and Jahmal Banks. But the Demon Deacons stalled out near midfield on a potential winning drive to end regulation, then couldn't stop the Tigers in the first OT after starting off with Hartman's TD throw to Perry.
“That locker room right now is hurting," Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson said. "It's a football team that has invested a lot and they care a lot and expected to win this game.”
Clemson: This was the start of a two-week stretch that could give the Tigers control of the league’s Atlantic Division race. The Tigers took early control by scoring touchdowns on their first two drives to take a 14-0 lead, only to see the Demon Deacons’ high-scoring offense get rolling by pushing the ball downfield. On this day, the Uiagalelei-led offense had to keep coming up with big plays to stay on pace – and did.
Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons have accomplished plenty under Clawson, highlighted by last year’s push to tie the program record with 11 wins to reach the ACC championship game. But Clemson continues to bedevil them, with Wake Forest last winning in 2008 and only one of the previous 13 straight losses coming by fewer than 14 points. Wake Forest also fell to 1-65 all-time against teams ranked in the top 10 of The Associated Press college football poll, with the only win coming against No. 4 Tennessee in 1946.
A BIG STOP
Wake Forest appeared on the verge of ending its long skid in the series when it pushed near midfield on a potentially winning drive late in regulation. But 300-pound lineman Tyler Davis stuffed Justice Ellison on a run then teammed with linemate Myles Murphy to sack Hartman and eventually force the Demon Deacons to punt for OT.
“We battled and felt like we were in that game until the end,” Hartman said. “But at the end it’s a play here, a play there.”
Clemson defensive tackle Bryan Bresee returned after missing last week’s win against Louisiana Tech while being home with his family following the death of his 15-year-old sister, Ella, to brain cancer. He had two tackles and batted Hartman's second-down pass at the line in the second OT.
“I just never lost confidence in us,” he said.
The Tigers are near the top of the AP Top 25 with little room to climb despite a tough road win. The Demon Deacons aren't likely to slide much, if at all, after giving the Tigers all they could handle.
THEY SAID IT
“You hate for anybody to lose a game like that. That was an unbelievable college football game — two teams that fought with every ounce of everything they had. That’s what (top-25) matchup should look like, especially on the road.” — Swinney.
Clemson: The Tigers host No. 12 North Carolina State next Saturday in another critical division game.
Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons travel to Florida State next Saturday.
Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap
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