ATLANTA – Minutes after the final seconds ticked off the clock at Bobby Dodd Stadium, there were more people on the field than there were in the stands. Scores of fans and students rushed onto the turf, covering nearly all 100 yards of the surface with bodies and setting off a celebration that has rarely been seen on The Flats.
The reason was Georgia Tech's unimaginable 31-17 upset win over No. 5-ranked Clemson, a victory that breathes new life into the team's season and keeps the Yellow Jackets in contention for the ACC championship.
“It was a great team win,” Tech head coach Paul Johnson said. “The offense played well, the defense played well, and the special teams were clean. These kids really played hard.”
Tech got the momentum in an unlikely manner in the first quarter and was able to answer every attempted Clemson comeback.
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The turnaround happened in the first quarter. Tech had gone three-and-out on two straight possessions and had allowed Clemson to score a field goal. The Tigers had the ball and appeared to have completed a pass to D.J. Howard. But the replay showed Howard had fumbled after being hit by Louis Young, with Rod Sweeting recovering for Tech at the 19.
Six plays later, Tech was in the end zone for the first time, with Orwin Smith turning the right corner for a 1-yard scoring run and a 7-3 lead. It was the first of four first-half scores that left the Clemson visitors shaking their head and wondering what had happened.
“We changed a few things,” Johnson said. “But we really just had to settle down.”
They certainly did settle down. Tech drove to the 6 on its next possession and settled for a 23-yard field goal by Justin Moore. The Yellow Jackets drove 10 plays and 80 yards the next time, scoring on Smith's 3-yard run to make it 17-3.
Clemson tried to answer but missed a 40-yard field goal attempt, and Tech responded with a nine-play 78-yard drive that concluded on a 3-yard run by Washington. The junior, who had not played well in Tech's back-to-back losses, ran for 176 yards and completed 4 of 9 passes for 60 yards.
“Tevin had a couple of big runs,” Johnson said. “The quarterback draw was huge in the third quarter to answer their score. It was pretty good execution, and the guys got good blocks. He had some big carries and to pick up some third downs I though was huge.”
Trailing 24-3 at the half, Clemson took the second-half kick and struck for a quick score. Taj Boyd found freshman Sammie Watkins, who sliced the Tech secondary and scored on a 48-yard reception, his 10th touchdown of the season.
But Tech answered to make it 31-10 on a five-play drive that was keyed by Washington's career-best 56-yard run. David Sims scored on an 11-yard run, stretching out with all his might to cover the final yard.
Tech could have put the game away in the third quarter but wound up giving Clemson a second wind. The Jackets drove to the 1 but wound up turning it over. Washington bobbled the ball, and it was grabbed by Rennie Moore.
Clemson raced down the field in 10 plays and cut the lead to 31-17 on Boyd's 1-yard run. The Tigers had a chance to draw to within one score, but Boyd lobbed a pass over the head of Watkins and into the arms of Jamea Thomas for an interception.
Tech then took away any chance Clemson had by running 9:04 off the clock with a 16-play drive that stripped the Tigers of their timeouts and handed them the ball back with only 1:29 remaining.
Tech has a week off before its next game, a Thursday night ESPN game on Nov. 10 against Virginia Tech.
“It's like I told them after the game, it makes the next game that much bigger,” Johnson said.