Georgia Tech falls short of ACC Championship with 37-35 loss to Florida State


Excitement and anticipation were high in advance of the 2014 ACC Championship Game for the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, and for much of the night, the play on the field lived up to the billing. Unfortunately, it was not quite enough for the ACC Coastal Champs, as they suffered their third loss of the season, falling 37-35 to the ACC Champion Florida State Seminoles.

The Jackets came out of the gate flying high on both sides of the ball. The defense produced a quick, three-and-out effort on Florida State’s opening drive, and that was just the beginning of the early onslaught. Offensively, Tech took the ball and rumbled 71 yards in prompt fashion, needing only eight plays (all rushes) to cross the goal line. Synjyn Days led the way with 33 yards on the drive, but Justin Thomas was utterly flawless in operating the offense in the pitch game.

That period of utter dominance on both sides did not quite continue. Jameis Winston and company responded with a touchdown drive to knot the score at 7-7, and it was a bit of a deflating score. Tech had pinned the ‘Noles into a 3rd-and-long situation, but Winston found tight end Nick O’Leary for a long gain, and on the subsequent play, O’Leary was running alone down the sideline (inexplicably) when Winston connected with him for a 46-yard score.

Still, the Jackets could not be contained offensively in the early stages. Days capped another touchdown march by the Jackets with a 1-yard score, and it was an 11-play, 75-yard drive that included multiple third down conversions on the ground. To recap, Georgia Tech gained 141 yards on the first two drives, and they did so without attempting a pass. It was a vintage Paul Johnson start.

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Offense was never the full-fledged worry, however, and Ted Roof’s defensive group struggled on the ensuing drive. FSU’s Dalvin Cook was dominant (with the help of gaping holes created by his offensive line) during a 7-play, 75-yard touchdown drive, and the interior of the Ramblin’ Wreck defense was visibly struggling, especially when considering that the Seminoles averaged nearly nine yards per carry on their first ten attempts.

Somehow, the Jackets responded again with a third consecutive dominant offensive possession. Justin Thomas connected with Deon Hill on a 27-yard completion to keep the drive moving (it was the first pass attempt of the night), but for the most part, it was good, old-fashioned option football as they matriculated the ball down the field, and Zach Laskey found the end zone from four yards away with 8:02 left in the second quarter to take a 21-14 lead. At this point, the Jackets had 194 yards on the ground, and that was easily the highest total allowed by the Seminoles in a full game this season. Whew.

Unfortunately, Paul Johnson’s club could not adequately capitalize on their incredible offense. Florida State scored a third straight touchdown in their own right on the following drive, and it was an unfortunate slip by a Georgia Tech defensive back that allowed Rashad Greene to scamper to the end zone from 44 yards away. In the blink of an eye, the score was 21-21, and despite the clinic offensively, the Tech faithful could not be fully happy with what had transpired.

That lack of happiness was magnified on the final relevant drive of the half, as Winston and company engineered a 75-yard drive to take a seven-point lead. There was reason to be positive as the halftime break approached with “just” a touchdown deficit, but in the same breath, wholesale change was needed on the defensive side of the ball.

The third quarter began with a flawless drive by the Jackets. Georgia Tech ate up nearly seven minutes of clock time during a 14-play drive, and Synjyn Days scored his third touchdown of the day from one-yard out. This was just was the doctor ordered, as the FSU offense watched helplessly from the sideline, and 77-yard drives that eat up nearly a half-quarter of time is basically the dream of a team that runs the triple-option.

Unfortunately, that was the end of the overall positives for the Yellow Jackets. Florida State was held to a field goal (in what appeared to be a crucial stand) on their next drive, but when Tech failed to take full advantage in being forced to punt, the Seminoles took the ball back with a three-point lead as the fourth quarter arrived. Again, the Ramblin’ Wreck were able to hold on in the red zone to force an FSU field goal, but with a six-point deficit at 34-28, crunch time was firmly here.

Justin Thomas and company came up empty on the ensuing possession, as a fourth-down pass attempt was closer to being intercepted than completed after a six-play drive stalled quickly. Florida State took over with less than eight minutes remaining, and with the Jackets desperately needing a stop (likely of the three-and-out variety), the magic did not appear with the Seminoles kicking yet another field goal to take a 9-point lead.

Thomas could not answer on what eventually signified Georgia Tech’s final drive. The sophomore quarterback unleashed an “arm punt” of sorts for his first interception of the game, and because of what appeared to be a miscommunication, the Yellow Jackets could not generate the scoring drive needed.

This team kept fighting, though, and the next drive was a beautiful one. Justin Thomas and Darren Waller engineered a 97-yard (!) drive with an unexpected barrage of passing success, and Waller crossed the goal line with 1:47 remaining to come back within a 37-35 margin. Then, the onside kick attempt came up empty and the comeback bid came up empty despite every push to the contrary.

Though it was a sad end to a fantastic season for the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, it was a valiant effort to say the least. The Ramblin’ Wreck rushed for 331 yards on 59 carries (5.6 YPC) as a team, including 104 yards from Thomas himself, and they simply ran into a buzzsaw in the form of Winston and the FSU offense for the majority of the game. There is little shame in dropping a close-fought battle to the undefeated defending national champions, and that is where we were in Charlotte on Saturday night.

Now, Paul Johnson and his club await their bowl assignment, but hopefully, the fan base will be able to reconcile this result against what was an extremely positive campaign for the squad.