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Clemson, Citadel football games offer comfort for fans after Irma threat

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CLEMSON – Nasty early Hurricane Irma forecasts or not, some Clemson fans were determined to watch their Tigers play Auburn.

“It would have to be a tornado inside the stadium to keep me from coming,” Brian Jonas said Saturday outside Clemson’s sold-out Memorial Stadium. “I’ve been here through rain and sleet and I’ve been here through some 110-degree days.”

Jonas, an Atlanta resident and a Clemson season-ticket holder for six seasons, attended the game with his girlfriend, Kathy Whitaker.

Clemson officials began monitoring Irma early in the week. But with less dire warnings for South Carolina on Friday, they stuck with Saturday night’s scheduled 7 o’clock kickoff time for an ESPN-televised game pitting No. 3-ranked Clemson against No. 13 Auburn. Though Clemson warned fans that traffic might be unusually hectic with some law enforcement personnel possibly pulled off game duty for Irma-related reasons, the flow seemed to go relatively well for a sellout crowd of more than 80,000.

Charleston Southern’s game scheduled for Saturday at S.C. State in Orangeburg was canceled on Tuesday.

Citadel officials opted Wednesday to move a Saturday home game against Presbyterian to Clinton.

That was just fine for Jason Cline, a 1993 Citadel graduate who hauls an impressive tailgating rig to most games. Cline had to journey only about 45 minutes from Chapin to see the Bulldogs defeat Presbyterian, 48-7.

It was the second year in a row a hurricane has forced The Citadel to give up a home game.

"It made it little closer to home, about 45 minutes instead of two hours," Cline said as his wife stirred shrimp and grits on the stove.

Like most South Carolinians, Cline spent much of the week monitoring Irma's progress.

"I had an appointment at College of Charleston this week that was canceled," he said. "It interrupts your life a little bit, but we're thankful that we're not in the path. And we pray for those who are in the path, because it's not going to be pretty."

John Bailey, a teacher and father of Bulldogs football player Logan Bailey, said he had no problem with The Citadel's decision to move the game.

"I wasn't nearly as bothered by the abundance of caution on The Citadel's part as apparently some people are," said Bailey, who is also from Chapin.

"As a teacher, the school district has kept us up to date as to what's happening with the hurricane and all our plans," he said. "So that helped me understand The Citadel having to make a decision.

At Clemson, Trent Howard and his wife Allie arrived from Johns Island to tailgate before the game. Trent works for Boeing and Allie for Charleston County Parks.

Allie’s father, Robert Sharpe Jr., and grandfather, Robert Sharpe, both played football for Clemson and it was her father snagging her and Trent some tickets that sealed the deal for the couple to leave the Lowcountry well ahead of Hurricane Irma.

“We were probably coming anyway,” Trent said. “It was just the tickets that really made us come.”

Auburn fans even made the trek, too, with a group of high school friends-turned Auburn students all convincing their Weather Channel-watching mothers they would be safe.

Amber Garvey, Morgan Whaley and Makenzie Trantham of Oxford, Ala., all lobbied their moms at 10 p.m. Friday night to give them the green light.

“They were afraid about Atlanta traffic and so we kept texting them words like ‘sad’ and ‘disappointed’ in our group text,” Garvey said. “We just kept saying we were disgruntled.”

Their mothers eventually agreed to come to the game, too.

“We left at 4 a.m.,” Garvey said with a big grin.

Gene Sapakoff of The Post and Courier contributed to this report.

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