CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) – No. 2 Clemson and Georgia Southern got a sunny sky, mild breezes and plenty of tailgaters at the start of the only major conference football game played Saturday in the Carolinas and Virginia while Tropical Storm Florence dumped dangerous amounts of rain elsewhere across the region.
Clemson officials moved up the start time to noon from 3:30 p.m. because forecasts called for a more significant impact from Florence on Saturday night and Sunday. By halftime of the Tigers’ 38-7 victory , conditions were changing. Grey clouds hovered over the stadium, with the wind picking up enough to blow around papers and knock ballcaps off heads.
Around Memorial Stadium, about 250 miles from the coast, it otherwise looked like a typical gameday, which made it a rarity in the region, where games were moved, played earlier in the week or canceled because forecasts called for Florence, once a Category 4 hurricane, to bring devastation.
More than 2 feet of rain already had fallen in places, and the drenching continued as Florence practically parked itself over the Carolinas. Forecasters said the torrents could continue for days, and with rivers rising toward record levels, thousands of people were ordered evacuated for fear the next few days could bring the most destructive round of flooding in North Carolina history.
It was the specter of those conditions that caused widespread schedule juggling.
No. 13 Virginia Tech’s game with East Carolina was canceled Tuesday when the Pirates said they wouldn’t be making the trip. Virginia’s home game with Ohio was moved to Nashville, Tennessee, and North Carolina and North Carolina State also called off contests. Instead of Wolfpack and West Virginia tailgaters, one of the parking lots at N.C. State’s Carter-Finley Stadium was being used as a staging area for power company trucks set to roll out to deal with power outages.
Clemson’s in-state rival, South Carolina, canceled its Saturday night game with Marshall.
In Blacksburg, Virginia, Virginia Tech’s staff made the most of the unexpected time off. After practices on Wednesday and Thursday, coaches scattered to watch high school football games played Thursday and Friday nights, and coach Justin Fuente gave everyone the day off on Saturday.
Admission was free to the Ohio vs. Virginia game at Vanderbilt Stadium, but just 5,438 fans turned out to see the Cavaliers prevail 45-31 .
“It wasn’t a typical college football game. It looked more like a high school game, but we brought our own energy on the sideline,” said Virginia’s Jordan Ellis. “Ultimately, we knew it was going to be like that. We just had to bring our own energy and noise on the sideline and take care of the task at hand. We were out here to win a football game, and that was the task.”
Cavaliers fan Manley Worrell said he and his mother traveled 10 hours from Hampton Roads to be there. Parts of Hampton Roads were under mandatory evacuation earlier in the week, and Worrell said his mother traveled from Greenville, North Carolina, where there was some flooding.
He understood the precautionary move, and Virginia’s desire to play the game.
“Virginia needs six wins one way or the other to make a bowl game this year, and Ohio is definitely one of the games on the schedule we were looking at as a must win game,” he said.
East Carolina relocated its team to Florida, worried that potential flooding near its Greenville campus would keep it from practicing or leaving for next week’s game at South Florida in Tampa.
Coach Scottie Montgomery said the team has been through about three practices, and is making sure to reach out to family and friends in areas affected by the storm three times daily.
“My No. 1 responsibility as a coach is to protect our players and that’s what we’re trying to do,” Montgomery said. “It’s not like being at home, of course. I miss my wife, I miss my kids, but our problems are miniscule in comparison to some of the people in New Bern” where a city spokeswoman said 455 people – in a community of about 30,000 – were rescued by boat from significant flooding.
Around Virginia, where the effects of Florence were hardly evident Saturday, Richmond watched film and lifted weights after getting home at 2:30 a.m. Friday. The Spiders moved their game from Saturday at home to the home field of its opponent, St. Francis in Pennsylvania, on Thursday.
The team stayed three to a room in three hotels, coach Russ Huesman said Saturday.
“Once you get through it and you’re done with it, it helps, obviously,” Huesman said. “It gives you the extra day to rest your guys a little bit, but it also gives you a head start on your next opponent.” For the Spiders, that’s Colonial Athletic Association rival Stony Brook.
At Clemson, local authorities handled traffic control instead of state troopers. The South Carolina Highway Patrol sent just 16 troopers. Normally, it deploys 100 to 110 on game days.
Citing a high wind advisory for later in the day, Clemson asked fans to take down tents that could blow free before entering the stadium and to clear the parking lots within two hours of game’s end. By kickoff, the stands were nearly full with about 75,000 people in the 80,000-seat stadium.
Keyanna Snipe, the mother of Clemson left guard John Simpson, said her son worried all week about how his family would fare near the coast in North Charleston. Snipe finally gave into her son’s plea to leave early and made it to Clemson on Thursday. “He was so happy and relieved,” Snipe said.
Tennessee offered free tickets to its game with UTEP in Knoxville to people from evacuated areas of the Carolinas.
Ricky Hughes of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and his wife, Sheba, took advantage.
“Believe it or not, I’ve always wanted to come here,” said Hughes, who wore a Coastal Carolina T-shirt and a Clemson ball cap. “I know it’s a nice and neat stadium.”
Tennessee said 1,067 tickets were given to fans displaced by Florence.
AP Sports Writers Steve Megargee in Knoxville, Tennessee; Hank Kurz Jr. in Richmond, Virginia; and Aaron Beard in Raleigh, North Carolina, contributed to this report.
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