North Carolina's Ryan Switzer hauled in his second TD catch of the game with 1:13 left to cut Clemson's lead to eight and threaten the Tigers. The Tar Heels appeared to recover the ensuing onside kick but were called for being offside -- although replays didn't show any player in a blue jersey being offside -- and had to kick again. The Tar Heels attempted another onside kick, and this time Clemson recovered and ran out the clock.
The Tar Heels took issue with what they thought was a phantom call.
"That was a blown call, obviously," Switzer said after the game. "Anybody who's seen the picture or the replay knows it was blown, but one play doesn't lose you a game. Would have most definitely liked to have got that. With our offense, we can score anywhere on the field. One minute with three timeouts would have been plenty of time. Frustrating, definitely, but it was a blown call."
Tar Heels coach Larry Fedora said that with three timeouts and the ball near midfield with 1:08 left on the clock, he was confident North Carolina could have scored and had a chance at a 2-point conversion to send the game into overtime.
"I had a chance to look at [the call] and they missed it. They were wrong. That's all I'm going to say about it. They were wrong,'' Fedora said.
The ACC said the offside play was not reviewable. Through a league spokesperson, ACC coordinator of officials Dennis Hennigan said the referees were lined up properly on the play and that one official saw a North Carolina player break the plane before the ball was kicked.
"It sucks," Switzer said. "You never want to leave the game in the ref's hands, but we did everything we were supposed to do on that play. We executed correctly, we recovered the ball. I heard the referee say he could have picked three guys who were offsides, but when you look at the replay, guys are almost a foot behind the line when the ball is kicked, so it's head-scratching.
"Obviously, it makes you sick. It didn't lose us the game, but it also didn't help us win it, either."
Heisman hopefulDeshaun Watson's 420 total yards and five total touchdowns set ACC championship game records and likely secures the Tigers (13-0, No. 1 CFP, AP) a spot in the College Football Playoff.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinneydeferred judgment on the call.
"They called him offside. I have no idea," he said. "Y'all watched it on TV. I don't know."
Marquise Williams threw for 224 yards and three touchdowns and also ran for 81 yards and a score for the Tar Heels (11-2, No. 10 CFP, No. 8 AP), who were trying to win their first ACC title in 35 years.
"It isn't going to change,'' Fedora said. "It doesn't matter one way or the other, so I'm going to have to swallow it like a man and just take it.''
ESPN's Andrea Adelson and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Robert Smith: 'Nobody's offsides'
Robert Smith joins Scott Van Pelt to break down the controversial ending to the ACC title game, in which UNC was called for offsides after appearing to recover its onside kick in the final minute.
Clemson holds off UNC for ACC title
Deshaun Watson throws for three touchdowns and runs for two more leading Clemson to the ACC title over North Carolina 45-37.