Ga Tech looks to claim biggest prize yet _ FSU
ATLANTA (AP) — This is already a season to remember at Georgia Tech.
Victories over Georgia and Clemson made sure of that.
Now, the No. 12 Yellow Jackets have a chance to claim their biggest prize yet — defending national champion Florida State, which has won 28 games in a row.
“We definitely want to go out and show the nation that Georgia Tech is back,” running back Synjyn Days said Monday.
The Yellow Jackets (10-2) will face No. 2 Florida State (12-0) in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game Saturday night at Charlotte, North Carolina, a rematch of the 2012 title won by the Seminoles 21-15.
That game, in an interesting twist, was the start of Florida State’s winning streak, which has since grown to the 15th longest in NCAA history among Division I schools.
“It would be nice to end their streak in Charlotte, considering they started it there with us,” said Georgia Tech offensive lineman Shaquille Mason. “We’re definitely looking forward for the opportunity to play them again.”
This is certainly a different Georgia Tech team than the one that faced the Seminoles two years ago. That group really had no business playing for the championship of anything, coming in with a mediocre 6-6 record that included a 42-10 loss to Georgia the previous week. The Yellow Jackets got in only because both Miami and North Carolina were banned from the postseason for NCAA rules violations.
As expected, Florida State dominated the first half, racing to a 21-6 lead. The Yellow Jackets made a game of it over the final two quarters, forcing the Seminoles to hang on for a triumph that resembled many of their close calls this season.
“We went into that game not as confident, I would say, until after the first half when he realized we could play with those guys,” Mason said. “As opposed to this game, where we’re going in very confident. They’re going to get our best shot from the first snap to the final whistle.”
Georgia Tech has every reason to be confident after its last two games.
The Yellow Jackets dominated No. 19 Clemson 28-6 and won Coastal Division title, then ended the regular season with a wacky 30-24 overtime victory against No. 15 Ge3orgia, a team that had beaten Georgia Tech five years in a row and 12 of the last 13 seasons.
“They’re hitting a hot run now,” Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said. “That’s timing and rhythm.”
Indeed, the team known mostly its quirky triple-option offense looks like it has a viable chance to knock off a Florida State team that keeps having one close call after another. Even though top receiver DeAndre Smelter is not expected to play after going out of the Georgia game with a knee injury, coach Paul Johnson is confident with whoever takes the field.
“Our guys,” he said, “have been pretty resilient. They just keep playing no matter what happens.”
That trait certainly came in handy against Georgia, which was poised for another victory over its state rival after a series of bizarre plays. The Bulldogs scored on a 99-yard fumble return, a play that Johnson — and plenty of others — thought should have been whistled dead before the ball came loose. Georgia Tech fumbled again late in the game, allowing Georgia to drive for a go-ahead touchdown with 18 seconds remaining in regulation.
But Georgia Tech, on a scramble by quarterback Justin Thomas, managed to get in position for the longest field goal of Harrison Butker’s career, sending the game to overtime. And, after a missed extra point gave Georgia another chance to win, D.J. White came up with a game-ending interception for the Yellow Jackets.
“That could have broken the back of most teams,” Johnson said proudly.
Florida State has won its last three games by a total of just 12 points, none of them against ranked opponents. The Seminoles rallied in the fourth quarter to beat Miami 30-26, needed a late field goal to hold off Boston College 20-17, and struggled to put away Florida 24-19 this past Saturday, costing them the No. 1 spot in The Associated Press rankings.
But, in Johnson’s eyes, they’re the best team in the country until someone knocks them off.
Georgia Tech’s players see a team that, much like them, knows how to come through in the clutch.
“I don’t see them as vulnerable,” linebacker Quayshawn Nealy said. “When you’re at the top, you get everybody’s best shot no matter who they are. That says a lot about their football team. They’ve faced a lot of adversity and overcome it.”
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963