Very special and required redemption

CLEMSON -- A tightrope football game within Clemson's circus season can be summed up with the Tigers' adventures on special teams Saturday.

All of this stuff happened in the short span of a 14-13 nail-biter win over N.C. State at Death Valley:

--Jarvis Jenkins blocked a Wolfpack field goal try.

--Richard Jackson missed two field goals inside 40 yards.

--Chandler Catanzaro, benched after missing two field goals in last week's 16-10 loss at Boston College, came on to kick the game-winning extra point.

--Marcus Gilchrist gave Clemson a critical field position edge with a 70-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter.

--Punter Dawson Zimmerman absolutely saved the day late in the fourth quarter with a leaping, one-handed grab of Matt Skinner's errant snap. And then launched a 38-yard punt down to the Wolfpack 15.

--N.C. State completed its second-to-last possession with a 4-yard punt.

A desperate team with waning bowl hopes needed every little edge to improve to 5-4.

'Play our best'

Do-it-all special teamer Michael Wade was in the middle of most of the fun. He hugged special teams coordinator Andre Powell as the final seconds ticked away.

"Coach Powell challenged us to play our best," Wade said. "Everybody took that to heart. Every player out there, we played like every play really mattered. We pretty much took over on special teams."

Zimmerman was surprised to receive a game ball from head coach Dabo Swinney in a happy Tigers locker room.

"It was really just like a reaction thing, and I was really fortunate to tip the ball down to where I could manage it," said the junior from Lawrenceville, Ga. "I was thinking, 'Just kick it down the field.' I didn't know what the punt would look like, I was just trying to get it off.

"It's still kind of a blur."

Gilchrist's return to the Wolfpack 21 came right after N.C. State took a 13-7 lead. Clemson failed to immediately capitalize as Jackson missed a 32-yard field goal, but forced a three-and-out to start its game-winning drive at the Wolfpack 39.

"Great blocking, man," said Gilchrist, a cornerback from High Point, N.C. "Everybody got a (helmet) on a guy and I was able to find a seam."

Florida State week

Wade and Gilchrist are seniors, respected leaders who had a nice bowl trip in mind coming into the season.

Wade, a Greer native, is the son of Mike Wade, a letterman on Clemson's 1981 national championship football team. He has played safety and quarterback for the Tigers and has been around long enough to have held for the Mark Buchholz game-winning field goal at South Carolina in 2007.

He was well aware of negative waves crashing around the program after last week's New England fall.

"We were 4-4 and it was tough," Wade said. "We easily could have won all four of those games we lost. It's not something you can look back on and say 'We shoulda, coulda, woulda.' We just have to take advantage of what we have left. We have these next three games, and all we have to do is concentrate on having fun, taking care of business and finishing the year out right."

Gilchrist also was looking ahead, not back.

"Of course we don't like what happened in the past," the High Point, N.C., native said, "but we tried to move forward, and I think we did that pretty well."

First, Clemson moved backward into a 10-0 ditch Saturday.

But eventually the Clemson special teams pulled it out, winning by a hair as thin as Chandler Catanzaro's redemption. Suddenly, there is a heartbeat of hope for Florida State week.

Reach Gene Sapakoff at gsapakoff@postandcourier.com or (843) 937-5593

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