CLEMSON, SC - By PETE IACOBELLI
AP Sports Writer
CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) - Travis Etienne rushed for 97 yards and two touchdowns, including a 1-yard burst with 3:05 left, and No. 4 Clemson won the ACC Atlantic Division with a 31-14 victory over Florida State on Saturday.
The Tigers (9-1, 7-1, No. 4 CFP) and their dominant defense looked to have this one wrapped up when they carried a 17-0 lead into the final couple minutes of the third quarter. But the Seminoles rallied on Jacques Patrick's 9-yard scoring run and a double flea-flicker for a 60-yard TD catch by tight end Ryan Izzo.
Florida State then recovered Kelly Bryant's fumble on the Clemson 40 with 6:46 to go, putting the Seminoles in position to spoil the Tigers' College Football Playoff hopes. But safety Van Smith intercepted James Blackman's pass over the middle on the next play, setting up the TD drive that secured the win for the defending national champions.
Etienne had a 25-yard run to the FSU 5 and took it in two plays later as the chilly Death Valley crowd erupted in celebration of a chance for a third straight ACC title in Charlotte in three weeks.
"I don't know if it's soaked in yet," Etienne, a freshman, said with a smile.
Cornerback Trayvon Mullen knocked away Blackman's fourth-down pass with 2:13 left to end the Seminoles' comeback hopes.
It's the fifth time in coach Dabo Swinney's nine full seasons that he has taken the Tigers to the conference title game. Clemson will face No. 7 Miami, which won the Coastal Division with Virginia's 38-17 loss to Louisville on Saturday.
For Florida State (3-6, 3-5), it marked its first losing ACC record since 2006. And the Seminoles' landmark streak of 35 straight bowl games is in jeopardy, too - they have three games left against Delaware State, rival Florida and Louisiana-Monroe.
Bryant finished with 151 yards passing. He also rushed for 60 yards and a touchdown. Adam Choice had a 10-yard TD run with 35 seconds left for Clemson's final score.
"The story of the night was definitely the defense and the turnovers," Swinney said. "Espeically that one by Van Smith. And we finally got that drive that we needed" in Etienne's second TD.
Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said his team will regroup and prepare to build on its second half.
"We usually find a way to win games like these," he said. "We've got to find that again."
Florida State: The Seminoles defense can play with anyone and, with just a little offensive help, should be able to keep the team in its remaining games. Florida State rescheduled the game with Louisiana-Monroe, postponed by Hurricane Irma, for Dec. 2 with potential bowl eligibility on the line.
Clemson: The Tigers had another uneven offensive showing with Bryant struggling on longer passes. While Clemson has a defense capable of carrying it to another deep playoff run, it must show more consistency and effectiveness on offense to make it through the more difficult opponents looming in the postseason.
Clemson played without a pair of key defensive starters in tackle Dexter Lawrence and linebacker Kendall Joseph. Lawrence, a 6-foot-4, 340-pound sophomore, was out with a foot injury. Joseph, the team's second-leading tackler, sustained a leg injury last week against North Carolina State. Cornerback Ryan Carter missed much of the final stretch after he was hit hard on a punt return by Florida State linebacker Emmett Rice. Rice was flagged for targeting.
Florida State got its first touchdown in the third quarter this season on Jacques Patrick's 3-yard score. The Seminoles have scored just 16 third-quarter points in nine games.
Florida State returns home to play Delaware State on Saturday.
Clemson also plays an FCS opponent, taking on Citadel on Saturday.
© 2018 Associated Press