Clemson's Dabo Sweeney, center, is carried on the shoulders of his players after their 38-10 win over Virginia Tech in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game in Charlotte, N.C. on Saturday.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Tajh Boyd threw three touchdown passes and ran for another as No. 21 Clemson routed No. 5 Virginia Tech 38-10 Saturday night to win its first Atlantic Coast Conference championship in 20 years.
The Tigers (10-3) clinched their first Orange Bowl berth since 1981, the year they won their only national championship. Clemson won't be playing for a national title this season, but the victory was still sweet considering they'd lost three of four games to close the regular season.
"We knocked down a lot of walls tonight," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said.
Clemson became the only team to beat Virginia Tech (11-2) twice in the same season. The Tigers beat the Hokies 23-3 in Blacksburg, Va., on Oct. 1.
The second half was all Clemson.
Clemson scored three touchdowns on five plays in a span of 4:24 in the third quarter to break open a 10-10 tie at halftime.
After Virginia Tech went three-and-out on its first second half possession, Boyd capped a 10-play, 87-yard touchdown drive with his second touchdown pass of the game to tight end Dwayne Allen for a 17-10 lead.
On Clemson's next play from scrimmage, wide receiver Sammy Watkins got behind the defense and hauled in a 53-yard touchdown pass from Boyd — his 31st of the season, extending his own school record. Boyd completed 20 of 29 passes for 240 yards and was named the game's most valuable player.
Andre Ellington, who ran for 125 yards, raced 29 yards for a touchdown to give the Tigers a 31-10 lead. Boyd put the game away early in the fourth quarter on a quarterback sneak.
"Our team, I could sense the confidence growing," Swinney said. "I told them if you just put it together on offense, defense and special teams, it won't be close, I don't care who we play."
Similar to the first matchup, the Hokies could get nothing going against a stingy Tigers defense, which knocked away nine passes.
Virginia Tech tailback David Wilson, the ACC's player of the year, was a non-factor, held to 36 yards on 11 carries.
Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas had a rough night, fumbling on the team's first play from play from scrimmage leading to Boyd's first touchdown pass to Allen and an early 7-0 lead for Clemson.
Late in the game, down 28 points, Thomas threw into the end zone and was picked off by Bashaun Breeland, who returned it 64 yards to set off a wild celebration. Clemson fans, sitting behind the team's bench, began bombarding the field with oranges.
It was one of those nights for the Hokies, who failed in their bid to win their fourth ACC title in five years.
Even when something went well for the Hokies, it quickly backfired.
After falling behind by 21, Jarrett Boykin hauled in a 29-yard pass from Thomas deep in Clemson territory. But Boykin was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct when the spiked the ball, drawing a 15-yard penalty. Four plays later, the Hokies turned it over on downs.
Thomas' fumble proved to be a foreshadowing of things to come.
On their first offensive play of the game, Tigers linebacker Stephone Anthony jarred the ball loose from Thomas on a keeper and defensive end Andre Branch recovered at Virginia Tech 25.
It was Clemson's first takeaway in its last four games.
The Tigers capitalized three plays later on when Allen hauled in a 24-yard touchdown pass from Boyd.
"It was one of those games where things didn't happen right," said Hokies coach Frank Beamer.