By JEFFREY COLLINS
Associated Press Writer
CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) – Derrick Hamilton ran for 97 yards and a touchdown and set up another with a 79-yard punt return as Clemson held on for a 24-19 win over Georgia Tech in the Atlantic Coast Conference opener for both teams Saturday.
Eric Sampson intercepted a pass from A.J. Suggs with a minute to go to seal the win. He bailed out quarterback Willie Simmons, who fumbled a snap as the Tigers (2-1) were trying to run out the clock.
Once again, the game was decided by a single score, though the previous six games between the teams were all decided by field goals.
Clemson’s Yusef Kelly, again playing for injured starter Bernard Rambert, ran for 89 yards on 20 carries.
Clemson’s defense harassed Suggs all day, sacking him five times. And when they didn’t get pressure on Suggs, the junior transfer from Tennessee struggled to find open receivers, going 17-for-31 for 201 yards.
The offensive bright spot for the Yellow Jackets (2-1) was Tony Hollings, who ran for 147 yards on 23 carries. But the Tigers held him to just 44 yards in the second half.
Georgia Tech’s only other offensive threat was Kerry Watkins, who caught seven passes for 139 yards.
Hollings scored from a yard out with 3:43 to play, cutting the lead to 24-19, but the two-point conversion attempt failed.
With the Yellow Jackets out of time-outs, Clemson tried to run out the clock. But Simmons fumbled a snap near midfield, giving Georgia Tech its final shot.
Hamilton had two big plays in the first half, running 77 yards for Clemson’s first touchdown. His long punt return set up a touchdown late in the second quarter that gave Clemson a 17-6 halftime lead.
On their first possession of the second half, the Tigers took a 24-6 lead on Simmons’ 44-yard touchdown pass to Tony Elliot.
Georgia Tech responded with an 11-play, 78-yard drive capped by a 7-yard touchdown pass to John Foschi that cut the Yellow Jackets’ deficit to 24-13.
Simmons fumbled a snap away on the next possession, but Georgia Tech fumbled the ball back. Simmons threw an interception, but the Tigers forced a punt.
Simmons, who was 18-of-31 for 176 yards and two touchdowns, showed he can block too. On Hamliton’s touchdown run, the quarterback was in front of him the whole way, making a key block at the 5 that let Hamilton get into the end zone.
Clemson’s second touchdown came after coach Tommy Bowden left the field goal team on the sidelines following Georgia Tech’s time-out on fourth-and-goal from the 2.
Simmons ran a naked bootleg to the left, but the Yellow Jackets had it sniffed out, so Simmons shoveled the ball to freshman Bobby Williamson to give Clemson a 17-6 lead at half.