BOSTON (AP) — C.J. Spiller caught six passes for 105 yards — the most for a running back in Clemson history — and set up another touchdown with a 57-yard scamper on Saturday to lead the Tigers to a 27-21 victory over Boston College and give interim coach Dabo Swinney his first victory.
Spiller, who missed most of the third quarter after he was left wobbly by a hit on the sideline, was awarded a leather helmet as the game's MVP as Clemson snapped a string of three heartbreaking losses since BC joined the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Tigers (4-4, 2-3 ACC) had not beaten the Eagles (5-3, 2-3) in six tries since 1958.
Cullen Harper completed 21 of 33 passes for 252 yards, and linebacker DeAndre McDaniel forced a key fourth-quarter fumble to set up the Tigers' final field goal. Chris Crane completed 18 of 39 passes for 116 yards, but he was helped by a special teams touchdown and two set up by interceptions that left the offense with a short field.
Spiller, who had a 242 total yards in the game, helped the Tigers take a 17-0 halftime lead over BC before they squandered it for the fourth straight year. Then he helped them go ahead with a 64-yard touchdown return.
After Spiller was forced out of bounds at the BC 15, Harper hit Michael Palmer to put the ball on the 1. Three plays later the QB found Aaron Kelly in the right corner of the end zone with 7:10 left; it was originally ruled out of bounds but overturned on replay.
It was Kelly's 19th career touchdown, a school record.
BC receiver Clarence Megwa was taken off the field after he was hit by McDaniel and fumbled what would have been a first-down reception, setting up the Tigers up at the BC 40 and leading to a 43-yard field goal with 2:46 to play that made it 27-21. BC turned the ball over on downs when Crane's sideline pass to James McCluskey was ruled out of bounds and upheld by replay.
Swinney took over the consensus preseason picks to win the conference championship when Tommy Bowden stepped down for the good of the program, then lost his debut to Georgia Tech as the Tigers fell for the third straight week.
The game featured the debut of the O'Rourke-McFadden Trophy, created to honor the winner of what has become a budding ACC rivalry. As MVP, Spiller earned a leather helmet in the blue and orange colors worn by Clemson when Hall of Famers "Chuckin' Charlie" O'Rourke and James "Bonnie Banks" McFadden met in the 1940 Cotton Bowl.
Spiller, who missed the previous game with a hamstring injury, left early in the second half when he was hit out of bounds after a 40-yard catch-and-run. He wobbled across the field to the Clemson sideline; but shortly after it was announced that he was doubtful to return, he was back on the field.
James Davis had a 23-yard touchdown run, and Harper ran it in from 3 yards out to give Clemson a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. Mark Buchholz made it 17-0 with a 27-yard field goal with 57 seconds left in the half.
BC linebacker Mike McLaughlin picked Harper off and returned the ball 36 yards to the Clemson 7; four plays later, Josh Haden ran it in from the 1 to make it 17-7. Justin Jarvis blocked a punt and Roderick Rollins picked it up and ran it in 25 yards for a touchdown with 10:36 left to play to pull BC within three.
On the next play from scrimmage, Wes Davis picked Harper off and returned it 24 yards to the Tigers' 21-yard-line. BC was stuck at fourth-and-4 at the 15 when Crane shook himself loose from a pass rusher and lobbed it into the side of the end zone for Brandon Robinson.
A flag came out and Clemson lobbied for offensive pass interference, but it was called on the Tigers and the Eagles had their first lead of the game, 21-17 with 8:43 left.