By Rick Bonnell
CLEMSON, S.C. -- Defensive end Kourtnei Brown returned an interception and a fumble recovery for touchdowns Saturday to lead Clemson to a 59-38 victory over North Carolina at Death Valley.
Brown, a senior from Charlotte’s Victory Christian High, ran in a fumble 14 yards to give the Tigers a 59-24 lead entering the fourth quarter.
The victory kept the eighth-ranked Tigers undefeated at 8-0 (5-0 in the ACC). The Tar Heels lost their second straight to fall to 5-3 overall, 1-3 in the ACC.
The Tigers pulled away with three touchdowns in the first five minutes of the second half. The last of those came on a 42-yard touchdown catch by spectacular freshman Sammy Watkins. That was Watkins’ ninth touchdown reception of the season, tying an ACC freshman record.
Clemson’s previous two touchdowns came in a span of 15 seconds. First, quarterback Tajh Boyd (five touchdown passes) ran a one-yard keeper for a score, then North Carolina’s Charles Brown fumbled the ensuing kickoff, giving the Tigers possession 12 yards from the end zone. Boyd found Brandon Ford the next play for the touchdown to make it a 38-17 Clemson lead.
North Carolina responded with T.J. Thorpe’s 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, before Watkins’ touchdown catch.
The Tar Heels committed two turnovers in the second quarter to trail 24-17 at halftime.
The first of those turnovers, an interception against North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner, led directly to Clemson’s last score of the half. Kourtnei Brown tipped Renner’s pass at the line of scrimmage, pulled it in and ran the 20 yards to the end zone for a 24-10 lead.
Renner made up for that mistake on the ensuing drive, finding wide receiver Jheranie Boyd with a 58-yard touchdown pass, to close the gap to seven.
The Tar Heels had another promising drive before the half’s conclusion, but wide receiver Erik Highsmith fumbled at midfield, giving Clemson possession with just over a minute left. A pass-interference penalty against UNC’s Tim Scott moved the ball to the 32-yard line, but that’s where Clemson’s drive stalled.
Placekicker Chandler Catanzano missed a 46-yard field goal attempt -- his first miss in 10 tries -- with 35 seconds left before halftime.
Renner, who entered the game with a 75 percent completion rate, finished the half with two interceptions.