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No. 3 Clemson 38, North Carolina 24
Associated Press


CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Willie Simmons came to the rescue for No. 3 Clemson.

Simmons, a redshirt freshman, replaced the injured Woodrow Dantzler in the second quarter and tied a school record with four touchdown passes to rally the Tigers to 38-24 victory over North Carolina on Saturday night.

Robert Carswell
Robert Carswell and the Clemson defense stepped up in the second half.
The Tigers (8-0, 6-0 ACC) fell behind 17-0 but it wasn't until Dantzler -- among the leading Heisman Trophy contenders -- left in the second quarter with a bruised left foot that their high-scoring offense woke up against the Tar Heels (3-4, 1-4).

Simmons, who had thrown just 28 passes this season, entered the game with 6:33 left in the second quarter when Dantzler left after a 24-yard run. Dantzler, sixth nationally in total offense at 298.5 yards per game, did not return. The extent of his injury was not immediately available.

Clemson didn't need him. The 6-foot, 190-pound Simmons never missed a beat after throwing an incomplete pass on his first play. He threw touchdown passes of 29 yards to Jackie Robinson and then hooked up with Rod Gardner on scoring passes of 20, 43 and 25 yards. His 43-yard TD pass put the Tigers ahead for good at 24-17 with 5:25 left in the third period.

And when North Carolina pulled within seven points at 31-24, and had the ball with 3:39 left, linebacker Keith Adams intercepted a pass by Ronald Curry and returned it to the 2. Two plays later, Travis Zachery scored from 2 yards out with 2:42 left.

Simmons finished 10 of 18 for 228 yards, while Gardner caught seven passes for a school-record 182 yards and three TDs, which matched a school mark. Dantzler carried eight times for 22 yards and was 4 of 7 for 68 yards before he was injured.

Curry, who sprained his right knee late in the second quarter but returned midway through the third quarter, was 18 of 32 for 314 yards and two interceptions for the Tar Heels.

North Carolina has played 33 games against teams ranked in the Top 5 and has an 0-32-1 record. The Tar Heels tied Tulane 14-14 in 1939.

The Tigers, whose first eight opponents have a combined record of 19-37, have the toughest part of their schedule left in their bid for a perfect season and shot at the national title. Clemson plays Georgia Tech next week, followed by Florida State and South Carolina. The three teams have a combined 19-4 record.

Curry, who missed the final six games of the '99 season with an injured Achilles' tendon, led the Tar Heels to its surprising lead that hit 17-0 after he ran 6 yards for a score with 12:18 left in the second quarter.

After the Tigers cut the lead to 17-14, Curry was injured with 16 seconds left in the half as he threw an incomplete pass. He was sandwiched between a defender and one of his offensive lineman and was carried off the field by two strength coaches. Antwan Black came on and the Tar Heels couldn't get anything going until Curry returned.

The Tigers tied it at 17 on Aaron Hunt's 22-yard field goal with 10:41 left in the third quarter before taking the lead on Simmons' 43-yard hookup with Gardner.

Clemson extended its lead to 31-17 with 13:12 left in the game on Simmons' 25-yard TD pass to Gardner, who caught the ball with three defenders around him. North Carolina pulled to 31-24 on a 1-yard TD run by Anthony Saunders with 9:17 left.

Before Curry went out, he had the crowd of 55,000 at Kenan Stadium standing and cheering for an upset, just a several hours after about 10,000 fans showed up at Dean Dome across the street to watch the annual Blue and White basketball scrimmage.

While Carolina's defense was able to keep Dantzler from his patented quick bursts through the line for big gainers, Curry was unstoppable with his accurate passes and mad scrambles.

The Tar Heels took a 3-0 lead with 5:37 left in the first quarter on Jeff Reed's 26-yard field. The points were set up when Curry hit Brandon Russell with a 31-yard pass to the 11.

Curry came right back and burned the Tigers again, this time on a 57-yard pass to Jamal Jones to set up Russell's 2-yard touchdown dive that put the Tar Heels ahead 10-0 with 1:23 left in the quarter.

After Clemson managed its only first down of the quarter on a 30-yard completion from Dantzler to Gardner, North Carolina forced another punt and quickly made it 17-0. Once again, Curry was on target with another 57-yard completion -- this one to Sam Aiken -- down to the 6. Curry ran 6 yards on a quarterback draw for the score.

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 Keith Adams picks off Ronald Curry and returns it 27 yards to set up a Tigers TD.
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 Clemson backup QB Willie Simmons finds Jackie Robinson for a 29-yard TD pass.
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 Clemson's Rod Gardner hauls in the pass from freshman QB Willie Simmons.
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 North Carolina QB Ronald Curry beats the Clemson defense for the 6-yard TD run.
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 Brandon Russell goes airborne for the Tar Heels score.
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