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No. 4 Clemson beats Va. Tech, sets up Notre Dame rematch

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Clemson' Trevor Lawrence runs for a 17-yard touchdown past Virginia Tech's Brion Murray during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020, in Blacksburg, Va. (Matt Gentry/The Roanoke Times via AP, Pool)

BLACKSBURG, Va. – The Clemson football program visits Charlotte, North Carolina, so much that it ought to consider purchasing a timeshare.

In two weeks, the Tigers will be in the Queen City yet again.

Trevor Lawrence had two touchdown runs and threw a scoring pass and No. 4 Clemson beat Virginia Tech 45-10 on Saturday to set up a rematch against No. 2 Notre Dame in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.

The Tigers (9-1, 8-1) ended their regular-season schedule with a chance for a sixth consecutive conference title and revenge against Notre Dame after a 47-40 overtime loss in South Bend on Nov. 7 when Lawrence was sidelined by COVID-19. The conference title game will be played in Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium.

“The regular season is over, and to get a chance to play in this next one, you have to earn it, and they earned it,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “So we’re excited to go play Notre Dame in Charlotte.

“This is playoff football. This is the way it is. Everybody talks about expanding the playoffs. This was a playoff game tonight. This was playoff football tonight. This was the best-of-one. You get beat tonight, you ain’t got to worry about no playoffs, and you’ve got win the next one, and you’ve got to win another one … It’s exciting to be in it this time of year.”

Against the Hokies (4-6, 4-5), Lawrence completed 12 of 22 for 195 yards with an interception. He ran for 41 yards.

Virginia Tech slowed the game down on a cold night and tried to limit Clemson’s possessions, but Clemson pulled away in the second half. The Tigers took a 17-10 lead in the second quarter on Lyn-J Dixon’s 19-yard touchdown run, and added 28 more in the second half, with Lawrence scoring on a 7-yard run and throwing a 65-yard touchdown pass to Cornell Powell.

“I think, as an offense, we did some things really well,” Lawrence said. “And like always, there are some things we can get better at, and that starts with me … I think we did a good job of managing it (the game). Obviously, we could have played better, which is always the case, but to come out with a win, 45-10, we’re happy with that.”

Derion Kendrick returned a fumble 66 yards for a touchdown, and the Tigers scored off another turnover.

Virginia Tech played three quarterbacks because of injuries, turned the ball over three times and rushed for a season-low 131 yards in losing its fourth consecutive game.

“Obviously, our plan was to try to keep our defense off the field and try to hold the ball as long as humanly possible,” Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente said. “That didn’t mean that we couldn’t or wouldn’t try to throw the ball. It just meant we were trying to limit the number of possessions. When you play it like that, you have the chance for it to go a bunch of different ways. I thought that was the best chance for us to win. I still believe that.”

TAKEAWAYS

Clemson: The Tigers committed to running the ball in this game, and it paid off. They entered ranked 11th in the ACC in rushing offense, but their 238 yards were their second-most in a game this season. A rushing attack, a great quarterback, and a stout defense are a nice combination heading into postseason play.

Virginia Tech: The Hokies have played in 27 consecutive bowl games, which represents the nation’s longest active streak, but they may see that come to an end. They’ve lost four straight games and five of six, and they’ve allowed 39 points per game in their losses. Even with the NCAA waiving the six-win requirement for bowl eligibility, Virginia Tech probably hasn’t warranted being selected.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Tigers should remain at No. 4 in The Associated Press poll and should stay in the top four of the College Football Playoff rankings.

LAWRENCE NOW CLEMSON’S ALL-TIME WINNINGEST QB

Lawrence became the winningest quarterback in Clemson history, securing his 33rd win as a starter. He broke a tie with Deshaun Watson, Tajh Boyd and Rodney Williams. True to his nature, he spent more time focusing on the team than his individual accomplishments.

“We’re still in control of our own destiny,” Lawrence said. “All the goals that we have are still in front of us, and I think that’s the best feeling. You take it one game at a time, but you kind of know what you’re working for. This is definitely one of those big goals on the list at the beginning of the year, and to get there is awesome, but we’ve got to finish. Getting there isn’t the goal. It’s to win.”

UP NEXT

Clemson: Vs. Notre Dame in the ACC championship came on Dec. 19 in Charlotte.

Virginia Tech: Hosts Virginia next Saturday in the regular-season finale.