No. 3 Clemson survives scare after NC State kicker misses game-winning FG

Clemson is still undefeated. Somehow.

NC State had a chance to upset the third-ranked Tigers with a 33-yard field goal in the final seconds of regulation, but Kyle Bambard pushed it right to force overtime. Deshaun Watson threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Artavis Scott to open overtime, and Marcus Edmond sealed the 24-17 win with an interception of Wolfpack quarterback Ryan Finley in the end zone.

It wasn’t pretty. Clemson turned the ball over four times, three times in NC State territory. One of those fumbles came at the 1-yard line, and the other turnover was the first pick-six of Watson’s career.

Aside from the pick-six, which tied the game 10-10 on the first play of the second half, and a few early misses, Watson had a big day. The junior Heisman candidate completed 39-of-52 passes for 378 yards and two scores. Whenever his team needed a big play, Watson made it.

The Tigers’ offense couldn’t get much going for most of the first half against the stout Wolfpack defense, but Watson led a 10-play, 75-yard drive in the final minutes of the first half to give his team a lead going into the break.

On the drive, which came with the game tied 3-3, Watson delivered a gorgeous ball on an out-route to Ray-Ray McCloud for a conversion on fourth-and-14 in NC State territory. Two plays later, Watson found his favorite receiver, Mike Williams, for a 13-yard score to give the Tigers a 10-3 lead going into the break.

Clemson beat NC State 24-17 in overtime. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)
Clemson beat NC State 24-17 in overtime. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)

Despite the strong finish to the first half, the third quarter got off to a disastrous start for Clemson. On his first pass of the third, Watson threw one right to NC State’s Mike Stevens, who returned it 28 yards for a score, evening things at 10-10.

The Tigers marched deep into Wolfpack territory on their next drive, but Tyshon Dye was stripped by NC State’s Dravious Wright at the goal line for another turnover. To top it off, Williams was stripped in Wolfpack territory on Clemson’s next drive, stalling another potential scoring drive.

All the while, Clemson’s defense was keeping it in the game. Sophomore defensive tackle Christian Wilkins was all over the field, and had a big blocked field goal when NC State had a chance to take a lead late in the third.

Clemson finally regained the lead after the blocked field goal. This time, instead of handing it off, Watson kept the ball himself and scored from four yards out to give the Tigers a 17-10 lead with 1:03 left in the third.

But the Wolfpack would not go away. Behind Finley, a Boise State transfer, and senior Matt Dayes, one of the more underrated running backs in the country, NC State marched right down the field to tie things up, 17-17. The 14-play, 75-yard drive was capped off with a two-yard score from Dayes, who had a game-high 106 yards (his sixth game with at least 100 yards this season) in the loss.

Clemson’s offense moved into NC State territory on its ensuing drive, but was forced to punt after back-to-back holding penalties. This gave the ball back to NC State’s offense with 6:39 to go. From there, the Wolfpack fed Dayes.

Dayes, coupled with two third down completions from Finley, led NC State into striking distance to win the game, but Bambard could not deliver from 33 yards.

Clemson opened overtime with the ball, and after a gutsy fourth-and-inches conversion, was able to get into the end zone via a Watson TD pass to Scott from 10 yards out. NC State’s chance to force a second extra frame ended suddenly. Finley forced one into the end zone on a seam route on the first play of the possession, and Edmond came down with a clutch, diving interception to keep Clemson’s dream season alive.

The Tigers did not play to its College Football Playoff level of 2015 earlier in the year, but seemed like they finally played to their potential in the win over Louisville a few weeks back. That stellar play continued with a win over Boston College, and now the Tigers, after surviving Saturday’s scare, are 7-0 heading into a bye week.

That sets up what should be Clemson’s biggest remaining test of the season: an Oct. 29 matchup at Florida State.

With a win there, the Tigers would look like a favorite to return to the four-team playoff.

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Sam Cooper is a writer for the Yahoo Sports blogs. Have a tip? Email him or follow him on Twitter!