ORLANDO — The ACC viewed its relocation of the league’s football championship to Orlando as “a smooth transition,” though game attendance took a hit Saturday night at Camping World Stadium.
In September, the ACC removed all championship events from the state of North Carolina in response to House Bill 2, a discriminatory bill known as “the bathroom law,” and soon announced Orlando as a replacement site for this year’s football championship game.
“We’re very pleased with that transition and really grateful for the reception that we have had,” ACC commissioner John Swofford said Friday in a press conference the day before the game.
However, with Orlando far less a convenient location for Clemson and Virginia Tech fans, ticket prices plummeted on the secondhand market. About a hundred of Clemson’s allotment of tickets went unsold, according to a school spokesperson, and those tickets were distributed to families in the area.
At kickoff Saturday night, the lower bowl of 70,000-seat Camping World Stadium was mostly full, with fans in Clemson orange holding a bit of a numbers edge over Virginia Tech maroon. But the upper decks were sparsely populated, and official attendance was announced as 50,628, the lowest total in the ACC Championship's 12-game history.
Multiple reports indicated the league was offering free admission to Disney employees; a league spokesperson disputed the volume that was being reported (“tens of thousands,” according to one account) but acknowledged the ACC was giving out free tickets to Orlando business partners.
The ACC made its decision to lift the game from Charlotte a couple days after the NCAA pulled all of its championship events from North Carolina in response to HB2, which figures to be tied up in state legislation for months.
“Politics and these kinds of situations are not where we particularly want to be as an athletic conference,” Swofford told the Orlando Sentinel this week. “But at the same time, our council of presidents felt its values pertaining to equality and diversity and inclusion and non-discrimination were very important at this particular time and that's what this was based on.”
The ACC’s contract with Charlotte to host the league football game runs through 2019.
Asked by the Sentinel where he believes the 2017 ACC Championship Game will take place, Swofford said, “I don't think we know yet. Certainly if we were not returning to Charlotte without question, Orlando would be at the forefront of our discussions. But I think we're going to have to wait and see over the next six months or so to see how this all plays out.”
Clemson linebacker Dorian O’Daniel was ejected for targeting in the first quarter for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Virginia Tech fullback Sam Rogers.
Rogers caught a floating pass from Jerod Evans behind the line of scrimmage on 3rd-and-12, and O’Daniel laid a hit to excite his teammates and Clemson fans. But he was whistled for targeting, and official review confirmed the call, giving O’Daniel an early trip to the locker room. Jalen Williams took his place.
This is Clemson’s first ejection for targeting this year (linebacker Ben Boulware’s targeting call on a clothesline at Boston College was overturned), and first ejection since safety T.J. Green in last year’s ACC Championship Game vs. North Carolina.
Since the ejection came in the first half, O’Daniel will be eligible for all of Clemson’s remaining games.
New Watson record
By connecting on his first 10 passes Saturday night, quarterback Deshaun Watson set a new school record with 19 consecutive completions, paired with his work Nov. 26 vs. South Carolina.
The old school record was 17 straight completions, by Nealon Greene in 1997.
In the first quarter, Watson was 10-for-11 for 98 yards and a 21-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Leggett, and opened the scoring with a 3-yard run.
Like Allen, like Leggett
This isn’t the first time a Tigers tight end totaled two touchdowns against the Hokies.
Jordan Leggett scored twice in the first half, equaling Dwayne Allen’s end zone visits in the 2011 ACC Championship when Clemson upset Virginia Tech 38-10 in Charlotte.
Didn’t take long
Clemson now has a sack in 43 consecutive games, and kept the streak going on Virginia Tech’s first offensive snap when Clelin Ferrell brought down Evans for a 4-yard loss.
Evans was also sacked on the first play of the second half, for six yards by freshman defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence.
Virginia Tech’s first touchdown drive was aided by a successful fake punt, when Terrell Edmunds juggled and caught a jump pass from punter Mitchell Ludwig for a 20-yard gain.
The first down was initially called back due to a flag for ineligible receiver downfield, but official review let the play stand because Edmunds was behind the line of scrimmage when he first touched the ball.