CLEMSON -- Chandler Catanzaro "just knew" his 43-yard field goal try was good the moment his right cleat struck the football, just as he immediately recognized failure in his chip-shot attempt from 30 yards a few minutes earlier.

"That was the best kick of my career," Clemson's sophomore kicker said after defeating plucky Wake Forest, 31-28, with no time remaining at Death Valley.

That wide-left experience with 1:18 on the clock? "I had a bad feeling about it," said Catanzaro, who hung his head before the ball sailed over Wake Forest helmets.

A goat turned instant campus celebrity, Catanzaro on Saturday was Clemson's leap into the ACC title game, captured within one happy 6-2, 205-pound body. The swing in emotion within the Greenville native was as wide as the enormous stakes for No. 9 Clemson.

With the victory, the 9-1 Tigers sealed the ACC Atlantic Division title with one conference game left, next week at N.C. State.

A loss would have given Wake Forest a chance to win the division next week with a home victory over Maryland, with Clemson possibly dropping to third place.

"My dad's always told me that when one door closes, God opens another one," Catanzaro said.

Orange Bowl dreams, short- circuited for much of the second half, are back in play.

Iced? No sweat

Catanzaro briefly considered what was on the line before he lined up the big kick. "I just took a couple deep breaths," he said.

Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe took a couple timeouts. Trying to make the kid's head explode, of course.

Catanzaro called upon a conversation he had with former NFL kicker Morten Andersen.

"He said that whenever he was iced, he just used it as a positive," Catanzaro said. "I just took some dry swings and just got ready to trust it, and that's what I did. I'm just so proud of myself right now."

Coach Dabo Swinney tried to boost Catanzaro during the long wait.

"He said he believes in me," Catanzaro said. "He said the whole team believes in me. He told me even if I miss it, we have overtime. But in my mind, I was going to end it right there."

So, yeah, the kid appeared confident. Catanzaro lined up his 43-yarder having made 11 of 17 field-goal tries from between 40-49 yards.

But some teammates just couldn't watch. "I watched the first one," said defensive tackle Rennie Moore, "but not the second."

It was a good snap from Michael Sobeski, whose hike on the 30-yard try was a bit high, and a perfect hold by Dawson Zimmerman.

"I was visualizing it all week," Catanzaro said. "I visualize it every week; I visualize a game-winner. This time, the opportunity came to me. I just thank my team for giving it to me."

Goat to 'cool'

Catanzaro was ridiculed through various parts of last season.

Remember? He missed a 32-yard try during overtime of a 27-24 loss at Auburn, the eventual national champion.

He missed from 34 and 38 yards in a 16-13 loss at Florida State that cost Clemson the 2010 ACC Atlantic Division title.

"I said it all offseason: There were a lot of people that doubted me, maybe. But I always had a strong belief in myself and my teammates, and my coaches did," Catanzaro said. "I just used last season as a learning experience. I had some adversity, but I rose above it.

"I worked so hard in the off- season to get an opportunity like this again, and I'm just so glad it came to me. And for the division (title), that's pretty cool."

Better yet, like quarterback Tajh Boyd, the Clemson kicker is another big-play sophomore with plenty of college football left.