The shame of ACC expansion is that some great annual rivalries have fallen by the wayside. Case in point: Carolina vs. Clemson.
Since the ACC expanded and went to two divisions with Carolina going to the Coastal Division and Clemson to the Atlantic, that annual blood-and-guts showdown has been reduced to an occasional skirmish. After the Tar Heels traveled to Clemson in 2006, they went four years without playing, with Carolina winning in Kenan Stadium in 2010 and Clemson whipping the Heels in Death Valley in 2011.
Now they play once again, with kick-off set for 7 p.m. in Death Valley. The Tigers don’t come to Chapel Hill again until 2019.
The rivalry was never any fiercer than it was in the 1980s, when Clemson was challenging perennially for top national honors and the Tar Heels were nipping at their heels. One of the best road wins for the Tar Heels ever was the 1980 victory in Clemson that cemented Carolina’s last ACC title—the 24-19 decision preserved by the Tar Heels’ goal line stand in the closing moments.
Clemson drove to the Carolina 10 yard-line and faced fourth down with 20 seconds to play. Safety and captain Steve Streater read his teammates the riot act.
“These are our rings,” Streater screamed, looking every Tar Heel in the eye. “No one else is going to get them. Step up, strap it on. They are not going to get in the end zone. Do exactly what you are supposed to do and don’t try to do anyone else’s job.”
The Tar Heels were 7-1 overall and were coming off a 41-7 loss the week before at Oklahoma. They were ranked No. 14 in the nation and were 3-0 in the ACC. They had Virginia and Duke left on the schedule and had already beaten Maryland, the second-place team in the league standings. A win in Clemson essentially clinched the league title for the Tar Heels. There was no Florida State in the ACC, and Virginia was lilly-white, slow and yet to get serious about the game of football.
“There were only 11 people in that stadium who thought you guys would keep them out of the end zone,” Greg Poole Sr. later told son his son, Greg Jr., a sophomore cornerback. “And those were the only ones who mattered.”
Homer Jordan took the snap, rolled out to the left, away from Lawrence Taylor, was hurried by a six-man Tar Heel rush and threw wide to receiver Jerry Gaillard in the left corner of the end zone. The Tar Heels ran the clock out and collected their fifth ACC title since the league’s inception in 1953.
They have not won one since.
“Lord, what a team,” Streater said in 2005. “I loved the fellas. That’s what I called them, ‘The fellas.’ When we stopped on the field, everyone was on the same page. We’d knock your mouthpiece out. I called it ‘cow-pasture football,’ just a bunch of guys out having fun.”
Other big wins over the Tigers in recent memory have included the 32-15 decision at home in 1969, which helped the Heels finish 5-5 and continue their upward momentum under Bill Dooley; the 21-20 nipping of the Tigers in Kenan Stadium in 1985, one of the few bright spots for the Heels against Danny Ford; the 24-0 demolition of the Tigers at home in 1993, signaling the changing of the guard from recent Clemson domination; and the 35-3 whipping the Heels laid on the Tigers in Death Valley in 2001, coach John Bunting’s first and most successful year at Carolina.
Carolina also claimed a memorable victory in 2010, with Johnny White running for 89 yards, catching for 90 and scoring two TDs in a 21-16 that came in the thick of player suspensions and the early stages of an NCAA investigation.
“We know so many of those guys, we have a lot of ties to their team and players,” said offensive tackle Mike Ingersoll of Charlotte. “We’re in recruiting battles with them every year. It feels great to win a game like that. They’re a great team and a huge football school.”