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In a battle of in-state rivals, Clemson edged South Carolina 40-14 to cement ACRL dominance over the SCRC in 2014. In the final game of the night at the ACRC Bowl Series, strong forward play and disciplined defense compelled the Tigers to victory.
Clemson got on the board first with a peculiar looking try. Prop Max Simons picked the ball up from a tackled player simultaneously as a ruck was forming and squirted out of the pile with the ball to sneak under the posts to give the Tigers a 7-0 lead. Fullback Aaron Keers added a penalty to put Clemson up 10-0. In the first half, the Clemson pack did a tremendous job counter rucking. On several occasions it caused turnovers or at the very least slowed the Gamecocks down.
“We built our foundation from the breakdown out, having the physicality and competing at every breakdown offensively and defensively,” said Clemson head coach Justin Hickey. ”I think tonight was one of our better showings there and it was really encouraging to see.” South Carolina head coach Mark Morris added similar sentiments. “I will give Clemson its due, their pack was really aggressive and kept us on the back foot.”
South Carolina struck back mid way through the first half through scrumhalf Brian Keown. The gamecocks forced a turnover deep in Clemson territory and the nimble nine beat a couple defenders to score under the posts. “Brian always plays a really good game,” said Morris. “Tonight was the most that he ahs been touched in two years.” Clemson was in Keown’s face the entire night and the shify scrumhalf often made plays out of nothing.
Clemson continued to control the pace of play in the first half, monopolizing territory and possession thanks to an effective kicking game. “We really have looked at what we can do to break up the opponents defensive structure,” said Hickey. “It was definitely part of the plan, it is a tool that we have used to apply pressure.”
Some shaky ball handling and questionable decision-making by South Carolina left Clemson with good field possession. It looked like the Tigers had squandered several chances, including being held up in the try zone and a knock on in the try zone, but Clemson took a scrum against the head from five meters out and went over for a try. The Clemson pack imposed its will on South Carolina in the scrums winning numerous Gamecock put ins. “The last couple of years the guys have grown up and it was a real point of emphasis coming into this year,” said Hickey.
In the 38th minute, Clemson had been in control of the game, but a great counter ruck from South Carolina allowed Dana Corcoran to sprint 50 meters and score a converted try. Aaron Keers added another penalty to make it 20-14 going into the break.
South Carolina controlled a majority of the possession in the second half but was unable to convert possession into points. With the game still at 20-14 the Gamecocks withstood a barrage on its own line and broke out 95 meters through a series of effective offloads. However, Clemson recovered and thwarted a five-minute foray on its own try line.
“Once we didn’t get that ball in it felt like if we could have just scored then and maybe taken a little bit more control of the game,” said Morris.
By weathering the storm, the Tigers were able to shut out the Gamecocks in the second half. “I talked to the guys at halftime and reminded them they had 14 points off turnovers,” Hickey stated. “Our defense was holding up well, it’s just those couple of turnovers and mishaps that dinged us a little bit.”
The Tigers got the first points of the second half after forcing a turnover deep in South Carolina territory. Dylan Goulding squeezed over for a 27-14 lead. Clemson scored again after isolating the Gamecock fullback on a kick. Clemson scooped up the ball and went in for a try. Aaron Keers, who was perfect on the day with the boot, kicked two more penalties to seal the 40-14 victory for Clemson.
With the win Clemson finishes the fall with an unblemished 7-0 record while South Carolina finished the season at 7-2.