December 2, 2018 / 5:09 AM / 4 months ago

Etienne leads No. 2 Clemson to rout of Pitt for ACC title

EditorsNote: Edit 1: Replaced missing word in ninth graf

Travis Etienne rushed for 156 yards and two touchdowns as No. 2 Clemson rolled past Pitt 42-10 Saturday night in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game in Charlotte, N.C.

Etienne, a sophomore running back who last week was named ACC Player of the Year, rushed for 100 yards or more for a seventh time this season.

The victory gave the Tigers their fourth consecutive ACC title and 18th overall.

Clemson moved to 13-0 for the second time in school history, essentially clinching a berth in the College Football Playoff for a fourth straight year. A Dec. 29 matchup against No. 3 Notre Dame in either the Orange Bowl in Miami or the Cotton Bowl in Dallas is expected to be announced on Sunday at noon.

Clemson extended the Atlantic Division’s reign in the ACC title game to eight in a row. Pitt, which was representing the Coastal Division for the first time since joining the ACC in 2013, fell to 7-6, but is bowl eligible for the 10th time in 11 years.

The decisive triumph was sweet redemption for Clemson’s senior class, whose lone home loss over the past four seasons was a 43-42 loss to Pitt in the 10th game of the 2016 season.

Etienne ran 75 yards on the first play of the game for a 7-0 lead.

On Pitt’s second possession, Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons forced a fumble by quarterback Kenny Pickett that was snatched out of the air by defensive tackle Christian Wilkins and returned 18 yards to the Pitt 3-yard line. Etienne scored on the next play for a 14-0 advantage.

But the Panthers’ rushing attack got going midway through the second quarter, resulting in a 62-yard drive capped by a 37-yard field goal from Alex Kessman, and a 39-yard drive that Qadree Ollison finished with a 1-yard run to cut Clemson’s lead to 14-10 with 7:56 left in the half.

The Tigers, however, drove 75 yards in seven plays for a 5-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Trevor Lawrence to wide receiver Tee Higgins.

Clemson cornerback A.J. Terrell then intercepted a pass by Pickett and returned it 31 yards to the Pitt 10, setting up another Lawrence-to-Higgins score on the next play that provided a 28-10 halftime cushion.

Lawrence has thrown 15 touchdown passes with no interceptions in the red zone this season, but it wasn’t his best game. The freshman, who was named ACC Rookie of the Year earlier in the week, completed 12 of 24 passes for 118 yards.

Higgins’ second touchdown reception gave him a team-high 10 this season.

Clemson running back Adam Choice added a 1-yard touchdown run on the second play of the final quarter for a 35-10 lead, and freshman running back Lyn-J Dixon added a 4-yard scoring run with 3:17 left for the final score. Clemson amassed 301 yards rushing, averaging 8.6 yards per carry.

The Tigers’ defense, which entered the game ranked second nationally in rushing defense, surrendered a season-high 200 yards on the ground, but with little damage.

Running back Darrin Hall led the Panthers with 86 yards on 14 carries, pushing his season total to 1,021 yards. He and Ollison gave Pitt two 1,000-yard rushers for the first time in school history.

—Field Level Media

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