CHARLOTTE – The Georgia Tech running attack was as good as ever. The defense, porous in the first half, played well enough to give the Yellow Jackets a chance. But defending national champion Florida State, as it has done all season, still found a way to win.
Florida State defeated the Yellow Jackets 37-35 in the ACC championship game on Saturday. The loss, which broke a five-game Yellow Jackets winning streak, likely means No. 11 Georgia Tech (10-3) will play in the Orange Bowl.
“I’m disappointed in the outcome of the game, but I’m awfully proud of the football team,” Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson said. “Florida State is a very talented team, and you know it was the kind of game where you couldn’t make a mistake.”
The win is almost certain to put the No. 4 Seminoles (13-0) in the College Football Playoff. Florida State extended its winning streak to 29 games.
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Sticking almost exclusively with the running game until the waning minutes, the Yellow Jackets ran the ball 59 times for 331 yards and four touchdowns. Quarterback Justin Thomas carried 11 times for 104 yards and completed 8-of-14 passes for 134 yards. B-back Synjyn Days rushed 19 times for 67 yards and three touchdowns and A-back Charles Perkins ran nine times for 64 yards.
“It was the kind of game we needed to play to win,” Johnson said. “It was a game of limited possessions. One stop was big. Both teams punted twice in the game, so there wasn’t a lot of stopping going on.”
But Georgia Tech never really found a way to slow FSU tailback Dalvin Cook, who ran 31 times for 177 yards and caught five passes for 43 yards. Cook, who set an FSU freshman rushing record this season, was named the game’s MVP.
“(Dalvin) was keeping us balanced, and it makes us a different football team,” FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher said. “He’s hot right now and the line is blocking. We’re being selfless.”
The Georgia Tech defense put little pressure on FSU quarterback Jameis Winston, who completed 21-of-30 for 309 yards and three touchdowns.
Georgia Tech had 465 total yards and enjoyed a huge advantage in time of possession, holding the ball for 34:55. But FSU was able to grab big hunks of yardage. The Seminoles had 491 total yards, an average of 7.7 yards per play.
“Nobody is perfect,” Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas said. “You can’t score on every drive, but they made good plays on the defensive side and stopped us a few times.”
The Yellow Jackets, trailing by six points midway in the fourth quarter, gambled on fourth-and-6 at their own 47 and failed. Thomas failed to connect with wide receiver Darren Waller on a pass that wasn’t close. The Georgia Tech defense held again to force a field goal, but the 28-yarder by Roberto Aguayo essentially put the game away with 4:28 left in the game.
Georgia Tech gamely tried to produce another miracle. Punted down at the 3, the Yellow Jackets drove the length of the field and scored on a 25-yard pass from Justin Thomas to Waller, who sidestepped the defenders and dove into the end zone. That cut the FSU lead to 37-35 with 1:47 remaining, but FSU recovered the onside kick and ran out the clock.
Georgia Tech wasted no time getting on the board. After forcing the Seminoles to go three-and-out, the Yellow Jackets drove 71 yards in eight plays, all of it on the ground, and scored on a 1-yard run by Days, his fourth rushing touchdown of the season. Harrison Butker’s extra point made it 7-0 with 9:50 left in the first quarter.
FSU immediately answered with a 74-yard scoring drive that ended with a 46-yard pass from Winston to Nick O’Leary, who was wide open downfield and scored his 17th career touchdown, tying him for second all time among ACC tight ends.
The Yellow Jackets kept it on the ground and scored again. This time they rushed 11 times for 75 yards, which ate up 5:50 on the clock. The drive ended on a 1-yard run by Days, who went airborne and dove in for the score.
FSU immediately evened the score with a ground-oriented attack of its own. Cook gained all 75 yards on the seven-play drive with six carries for 68 yards and one catch for 7 yards. He scored on a 1-yard run.
Georgia Tech answered with an 11-play drive that consumed 6:08 and covered 75 yards. The final 4 yards came on a run by A-back Zach Laskey, his ninth touchdown of the year.
Georgia Tech appeared to have FSU in a predicament on its next possession. Thanks to a penalty, the Seminoles faced a third-and-11 at the Georgia Tech 44. But Winston dropped back and found Albany native Rashad Greene wide open for a touchdown. Defender Jamal Golden fell down and Isaiah Johnson could not get there in time to stop Greene from hauling in his sixth touchdown.
The Yellow Jackets were finally stopped on downs on their fourth possession and were forced to punt for the first time. FSU responded with a 10-play drive that covered 75 yards and was completed with a 9-yard pass from Winston to Greene. That gave the Seminoles the lead at 28-21, which stood until the half.
Georgia Tech didn’t deviate from the game plan in the second half. The Yellow Jackets took the kickoff and drove 77 yards in 14 plays, all runs. Days ran off right tackle from the 1 to complete the drive, which took 6:52. Georgia Tech converted one fourth down and two third downs along the way and tied the game at 28 with 8:01 remaining in the third quarter.
The Yellow Jackets stiffened a bit on defense and held on third-and-2. That forced the Seminoles to settle for a 33-yard field goal by Aguayo, which gave FSU a 31-28 lead with 3:13 left in the third period. And Georgia Tech was unable to counter with any points and gave the ball back to the Seminoles.
“We had an opportunity when we held them to a field goal,” Johnson said. “That’s one drive we couldn’t finish.”
Georgia Tech’s defense was tested again after the offense was forced to punt for the second time. FSU started at the 10 and moved easily down the field until reaching the red zone. The Seminoles again had to settle for a 32-yard field goal by Aguayo, giving them a 34-28 lead with 10:25 remaining.
“We held them to a field goal the next time, too,” Johnson said. “We had our chances.”