Football wins ACC Championship, secures Orange Bowl berth

After compiling their best regular season record in nearly two decades, Tech won the ACC Championship game against Clemson on Saturday night, 39-34. The victory gives Tech its first outright conference championship since 1990 and a berth in the Orange Bowl, Tech’s first major bowl game since 1967.

“This [win] ranks up there. When we took the job at Georgia Tech, this is the reason we took it, to have a chance to go to BCS Bowl games. As I told the guys in the locker room, I was proud to be their coach,” said Head Coach Paul Johnson.

“This all started last year when we got embarrassed in the [Chick-fil-a Bowl]. Everybody had the mentality that our No. 1 goal was to win the ACC. Our next goal is to win a bowl game,” said junior B-back Jonathan Dwyer

Dwyer led the team in rushing with 110 yards. Junior quarterback Josh Nesbitt also broke 100 yards of rushing for the game, racking in 106. Nesbitt also had success throwing the ball, completing nine of 16 for 136 yards. Junior wide receiver Demaryius Thomas led receivers in yards with 77 yards, but only had two receptions on the night, one of which went for 70 yards.

The defense struggled in the first series of the game, allowing the Tigers to drive 71 yards on seven plays in only 3:36. Senior Clemson running back C.J. Spiller capped off the drive with a three yard run into the end zone to give the Tigers an early 7-0 lead. Spiller would go on to have 233 rushing yards and five receiving yards. With that performance Spiller was named MVP of the ACC Championship game.

The Tech offense responded in the next series with a nine play, 54-yard drive which allowed junior place kicker Scott Blair to hit a career long 48-yard field goal. The kick reduced the Clemson lead to 7-3. Junior A-back Roddy Jones had led off the series with two runs of 21 yards and 22 yards. The runs were Jones’s longest runs of the season.

After Clemson missed a 52-yard field goal, the Jackets’ offense took the ball 65 yards over 12 plays to give Tech its first lead of the night at 10-7. The first four series consisted of 202 yards of rushing for the two teams and only 27 passing yards, all of which were Clemson’s.

Clemson’s third possession of the night turned into an interception for junior safety Dominique Reese, which the Jackets turned into three points to expand their lead to 13-7. The Jackets were first and goal on the Clemson seven-yard line, but after two false starts, a holding penalty and a seven-yard loss with a pass to Dwyer, the Jackets were set back. Blair was able to set a new career long field, breaking the record from earlier in the evening with a 49-yard field goal.

On the next series, the Tigers took the ball to the end zone, with 65 yards on five plays, all earned by Spiller. Clemson was unable to take the lead, unsuccessfully attempting a two-point conversion, locking the game up at 13-13. Tech would respond with another field goal to take the lead into halftime, 16-13.

Coming out of the locker room, the Jackets drove the ball 71 yards to get the touchdown, with Nesbitt picking up his 18th rushing touchdown of the season. But Tech would only be countered in the next series as the Tigers notched their third touchdown of the night, leaving the score at 23-20.

The touchdown tug-of-war continued on the third play from scrimmage on the next possession with Nesbitt completing a 70-yard pass to junior wide receiver Demaryius Thomas. With the reception, Thomas had racked up 1147 receiving yards on the season, which is the second highest season total in Tech history. On the next series, Clemson quarterback Kyle Parker threw an interception to sophomore cornerback Jarrard Tarrant, who returned the interception for 50 yards. The turnover set up Blair for his fourth field goal of the night, moving the game to 33-20.

Clemson responded with a touchdown in a series that saw the Tigers successfully withstand two fourth down attempts, the second of which came off of a pass interference call. Clemson would get the ball back on their 37-yard line, after the Jackets failed to convert a fourth down attempt. After a Spiller rush for 54 yards, putting Clemson in the red zone, the Tigers took the lead for the first time in the second half, 34-33.

“We usually are in four down territory. If you watch our games nobody punts,” Johnson said.

Tech got the ball back with 6:05 to play in the game. The Jackets were able to mount a sustained drive that brought the clock down to 1:20, forcing Clemson to use its final two timeouts, and saw Dwyer run for 15 yards to retake the lead for Tech. The Jackets’ two point conversion attempt was originally ruled on the field to have been successful, but it was overturned after video replay, putting Tech up by five, and Clemson within a touchdown of taking the lead.

“We just went out there and realized that we were not going to lose this game. There was no way that we were going to lay down and give up. Everybody was pushing each other up telling them that we were going to win,” Dwyer said.

Clemson got the ball back on their 35-yard line, but the Tigers received a holding call setting them back to the 25. After three pass, the first two incomplete and the last one complete for 18 yards, Parker was stopped by junior defensive end Derrick Morgan, synching the game for the Jackets.

“I am awfully proud of our football team. We found a way to win. It was very similar to the last game. We got out front, and, to their credit, they came back and took the lead, but we were able to put together a big drive there at the end, and then got the stop,” Johnson said.

As is customary for the ACC Champion, Tech was presented with its official bid to the Orange Bowl during the trophy presentation after the game. The game will be held at Dolphin Stadium on Jan. 5, 2010 in Miami.

“I am excited to get the chance to go to Miami and represent the ACC in the Orange Bowl,” Johnson said.

Tech’s offense in just the first half set the ACC Championship rushing record for a team with 170 yards, but went on to finally set the record at 333 yards. Scott Blair’s four field goals passed Sam Swank’s record for three field goals in an ACC Championship. Swank’s three field goals were all the points that Wake Forest scored in the 2006 ACC Championship against Tech, and his performance was good enough to have him named Most Valuable Player for the 2006 Championship game. Another Championship record was broken as neither team punted during the game.