Friday October 28, 2005
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Clemson rivalry adds to homecoming fun

By Neil Paine Contributing Writer

While the University of Georgia will always remain Tech's biggest rival, Tech's enmity with Clemson ranks just behind that of the Clean Old-Fashioned Hate. Two things make the rivalry with Clemson so strong. First, this is a conference game. Second, most games have been close battles that were often decided in the final moments of play.

Tech's first clash with Clemson on the gridiron dates back to 1898, when the Tigers beat the Jackets 23-0 in Augusta. It was just the 11th football game Clemson had ever played. Since then, Tech has dominated the series, going 44-22-2 in the 68 meetings over the intervening years. It should also be noted that 54 of the 69 games in the series have been played in Atlanta, and that Tech is 39-13-2 at home. Since 1983, when the two schools began competing against each other as members of the Atlantic Coast Conference, Clemson has won 12 of the 22 matchups.

While the rivalry has always been intense, the competitiveness between the two teams has increased in recent years, as each successive contest seems to be more thrilling than the last. Eight of the last nine meetings between the Tigers and Jackets have been decided by five points or less. That includes a streak from 1996 to 2001 when each game was decided by exactly three points! It is against this backdrop that some of the most memorable moments in Tech football history have been forged.

In 1990 Tech was a college football juggernaut, finishing the year undefeated and earning a share of the national title. However, all of that might be different if not for one missed field goal. Clemson trailed Tech 21-19 late in the fourth quarter when the Tigers ran out of downs at midfield with a minute left. They decided to give kicker Chris Gardocki a shot at a game-winning 60-yard field goal. The kick fell short, however, and the Jackets cruised on to be national champions.

In 1991 Clemson trailed Tech 7-2 with just over two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, but Tiger running back Ronald Williams was able to scamper into the end zone with 2:06 on the clock, making it 9-7 in Clemson's favor. This time Tech would have to drive downfield on Clemson, and they did, setting up game-winning field goal attempt with only eight seconds to play. But the kick was blocked. Clemson linebacker Wayne Simmons blocked Scott Sisson's 44-yard attempt as the Tigers held on to win 9-7.

In 1993 Tech kicker Tyler Jarrett had a chance for the game-winning field goal, but missed his 41-yard attempt with three minutes left on the clock. The Jackets would never recover and lost16-13.

Tech lost by wide margins in 1994 and 1995, but the two schools found themselves engaged in a difficult contest again in 1996. Tech led for most of the game that year and held a 25-21 lead over the Tigers with under five minutes to go in the game, but Clemson quarterback Nealon Greene took over on the final drive, passing and running his team downfield. He capped that game-winning drive with a one-yard touchdown run that came at the 4:10 mark in the fourth quarter as Clemson held on to win 28-25.

The year 1997 marked the beginning of Tech's recent advantage in the series, when Jacket kicker Brad Chambers drilled a 20-yard field goal with 1:54 left in the game, giving Tech a 23-20 home victory. Tech prevailed again in 1998 after Joe Hamilton led the Jackets down the field in the game's final two minutes, culminating with a one-yard Joe Burns run that made the score 24-21 in Tech's favor.

Hamilton lit up the Tigers again in 1999, this time connecting for five touchdown passes and 322 passing yards. Yet the game was still a close contest. Sophomore strong safety Chris Young tipped away a Clemson Hail Mary in the end zone on Clemson's final play, ensuring a 45-42 Jacket win. Of course, these fantastic finishes don't represent the greatest victories in the series, which are the come-from-behind victories.

While many current Tech students consider Calvin Johnson's extraordinary touchdown reception that won last year's game (more on that later) to be "The Catch," the original and definitive "Catch" was actually made four years earlier on a sunny afternoon in Death Valley.

Clemson led 28-24 before quarterback George Godsey would lead the come-back drive. On the drive he completed seven of 11 passes for 72 yards, and he finished the drive by throwing the pass that became "The Catch." With 13 seconds to play Kerry Watkins stretched out, diving for Godsey's 16-yard throw into the end zone, and made a spectacular, one-handed grab that gave the Jackets an improbable 31-28 victory, one that forever ensured Watkins a place in Tech history.

Clemson made magic of their own in the 2001 barn-burner, a game which went into overtime and ended when Dantzler dashed 11 yards into the end zone for a "walk-off" score. Tech had another chance to beat Clemson late in the 2002 game after staging a furious rally that brought them back from a 24-6 deficit, but A.J. Suggs was picked off deep in Clemson territory with only 1:12 left in the game and the Jackets trailing 24-19, effectively ending the game. After a Clemson blowout in 2003, though, Tech pulled out some of their best heroics for the 2004 installment of the rivalry.

It was "The Catch, Part II" that truly propelled Calvin Johnson into the national limelight. After Johnson cut Clemson's lead to 24-21 with an 8 yard TD reception from Reggie Ball, an improbable botched snap on a Tiger punt left Tech at Clemson's 11-yard-line with just 11 ticks on the clock and a chance to pull off a huge road upset. Johnson didn't disappoint, as he came down with Ball's throw, making the score 28-24 in Tech's favor.

The 70th meeting in the series is the first time in a decade that the matchup has been the homecoming game. This should ensure that what has been a terrific rivalry over the years gets even better this weekend. Don't be surprised if it again comes down to the final play of the game.