CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Phil Mafah ran for a career high 186 yards and two touchdowns in relief of the injured Will Shipley and Clemson held off No. 12 Notre Dame 31-23 to end a disheartening two-game losing streak Saturday.
The Tigers (5-4) came in with more losses in a season than it had in 13 years and still stinging from the radio criticism of “Tyler from Spartanburg,” who called out Dabo Swinney and drew a strong, even hostile rebuke from the coach that apparently fired up the whole group.
Mafah ran for scores of 41 and 1 yard, the last putting Clemson ahead 31-16 in the third quarter. Notre Dame drew within one score on Sam Hartman’s 26-yard scramble score.
That’s when Clemson’s special teams and defense closed things out. Four times after that, the Tigers downed punts inside the Notre Dame 15 — including a nifty quick kick by quarterback Cade Klubnik — and the Irish (7-3, No. 15 CFP) could never get out of the hole.
Notre Dame got a last chance when Mafah fumbled with 1:47 to go on its own 22. After a first down, Hartman threw four incompletions to give the ball back to the Tigers with 58 seconds left.
Clemson ran out the clock and set off a celebration for Death Valley fans that had little to cheer about this season.
Swinney finally moved past the late Frank Howard in all-time Clemson wins with 166 after missing his first two chances to move in front. The loss continued the nightmarish Clemson experience of Notre Dame’s Hartman, who’s teams were 0-5 vs. the Tigers while at Wake Forest.
Klubnik threw for 109 yards and a 9-yard TD to Tyler Brown and linebacker Jeremiah Trotter Jr. stepped in front of a Hartman pass for a 28-yard pick six score that put the Tigers ahead 24-6 in the second quarter.
Hartman finished 12 of 25 for 146 and two interceptions. It was the first time an unranked Clemson had beaten a ranked team since 2021 and a 48-27 win over No. 13 Wake Forest who was led by, you guessed it, Hartman.
Clemson came in reeling from two straight road losses to Miami and North Carolina State and were without several starters, including the all-ACC tailback Shipley who was in concussion protocol after a hit last week at North Carolina State.
Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish struggled to take advantage of early chances. They settled for three first-half field goals after solid drives that had them down 24-9 at the half. Then they were stuck deep in their own territory in the final period.
Clemson: Can this Tiger team go to the ACC title game? The summertime favorites to win an eighth league title in nine years finally played up to that billing with strong offensive line play and a swarming defense.
Notre Dame is off next week before facing Wake Forest on Nov. 18.
Clemson continues a three-game homestand against Georgia Tech next Saturday.