CLEMSON -- Tajh Boyd peered up at the Memorial Stadium scoreboard and noted the situation as he took the field: nine minutes remaining, Clemson down by a touchdown.
"I looked at the clock and it's like 'Man, we worked too long to go out here and lose again,' " the Clemson quarterback said. "In my mind, it is just not going to happen."
Boyd and the Cardiac Cats pulled off another great escape Saturday, a 31-28 come-from-behind win against Wake Forest, a victory clinching Clemson's second Atlantic Division title in three years.
The No. 9 Tigers will play for the ACC title Dec. 3. in Charlotte.
Clemson (9-1, 6-1 ACC) had overcome deficits of 14 or more points nine times in program history entering the season. Clemson has three such comebacks this season, against Auburn, Maryland and Wake. A quarter of the program's greatest comebacks have come with Boyd, the escape artist, playing quarterback.
But Clemson found itself in a two-touchdown deficit in large part because of Boyd, along with an inefficient offensive line, and a Clemson defense again struggling against the run, allowing its third 100-yard rusher in four weeks as the Demon Deacons' Brandon Pendergrass rushed for 134 yards on 20 carries.
Boyd threw two interceptions, the second an overthrow offensive coordinator Chad Morris said was related to poor mechanics: a back-foot throw.
The pick led to a Pendergrass 33-yard touchdown, the result of a blown assignment by a Clemson defender, giving Wake a 28-14 lead with 5:32 to play in the third.
The Deacons (5-5, 4-3) were 20 minutes away from controlling their path to a division title.
"Everyone wants things to be picture perfect, but it's never going to be that way," Morris said. "It's how you handle adversity."
Wake perplexed Boyd for the first 40 minutes of play, rushing three defenders and often dropping eight into coverage. Just three weeks after North Carolina was max-blitzing Boyd -- Georgia Tech brought pressure, too -- Wake was in max coverage.
Boyd became impatient, forcing throws downfield.
"It's not what I had anticipated," Boyd said. "So I was like, OK, they are (changing) their game plan a little bit. You just got to take it and run with it on the fly. That's when the coaches come in and we as players talk about it on the sideline. It's just great communication by everybody to come back and execute."
Morris said he did not have to play sideline psychologist Saturday, a testament to Boyd's growth.
"I didn't have to tell Tajh a thing; he was upset, he knew it," Morris said. "I said 'Hey, look man, we are going to need you to make some plays.' "
Boyd made plays. Over the final 20 minutes of the game, Boyd completed 17 of 22 passes for 199 yards and two TDs.
After Clemson allowed a season-worst 21 points in the third quarter, Boyd responded by leading three scoring drives. Boyd identified a mismatch: Wake was matching its outside linebackers on Clemson tight ends. Boyd hit tight ends Brandon Ford and Dwayne Allen on multiple back-shoulder throws, including a 7-yard touchdown strike to Ford that cut the Wake lead to 28-21. Those throws set up the game-tying touchdown pass with three minutes to play.
With seven seconds left, Boyd set up kicker Chandler Catanzaro up to be the hero, and he answered with a 43-yard field goal as time expired. Coach Dabo Swinney showed off the Atlantic Division trophy after the game.
"We have a quote in our locker room that says 'Never, never, never give up,' " Swinney said. "And Tajh is the epitome of that."