Tech clinches Coastal with win over Duke
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
DURHAM, N.C. -- Phil Smith and Joseph Gilbert snatched the banner from the fans in the stands, marched a few yards away and pointed to the spray-painted yellow-and-black message for the TV cameras.
Yes, indeed, Georgia Tech is going to play for the ACC championship.
Josh Nesbitt passed for 195 yards and two touchdowns, Jonathan Dwyer rushed for 110 yards and two touchdowns, and the Yellow Jackets' defense shut down Duke's offense for a 49-10 win Saturday.
The victory clinched the Coastal Division title for Tech (10-1, 7-1) , and with it a spot in the conference title game on Dec. 5 in Tampa. It will be the first time the No. 7 Jackets will play for the title since losing to Wake Forest 9-6 in Jacksonville in 2006.
If Virginia beats Boston College, Clemson will clinch the Atlantic Division and will meet Tech in the ACC Championship Game. If Boston College wins, Clemson could still clinch with a win over Virginia next week.
"Those guys have worked really hard, and a lot of people have doubted them along the way, especially early," coach Paul Johnson said. "Lord knows we can play a lot better, and we need to, but I'll give them credit, they find a way to win. For the last few weeks, every game, they've found a way to win."
This week, it took a combined effort from the defense, offense and special teams because as Johnson said, sometimes they did "dumb things" along the way.
As Tech has had a penchant to do this season, it fell behind quickly. Duke quarterback Thaddeus Lewis dinked and dunked the Blue Devils down the field to give his team a 7-0 lead before the few fans who attended had a chance to sit down.
A botched snap on a fake punt two Tech series later gave Duke the ball on the Tech 14-yard line with a chance to go ahead 14-0. But, as he's done all season, Derrick Morgan stepped up and made the big play by sacking Lewis on second-and-nine at the 13-yard line. After a short pass on third down, the Devils kicked a 31-yard field goal to take a 10-0 lead.
Tampa was disappearing.
And then, one of those "dumb things" turned around the game. Duke tried a short kickoff, perhaps because Tech's returners were looking right into the sun. Orwin Smith ran up to make the catch and bobbled the ball because he said the glare was bad and the ball was coming down so quickly. But, he immediately picked it up and sprinted 83 yards before a Duke player pushed him out of bounds at the 2-yard line.
Nesbitt scored on the next play to cut Duke's led to 10-7.
After a three-and-out for the Blue Devils, Nesbitt marched the Jackets down the field again, and Tech took a 14-10 lead when Marcus Wright sprinted in from 16 yards out on a toss play to the right.
Dwyer added a 3-yard scoring burst on Tech's next series to make the score 21-10, and Nesbitt hit Stephen Hill on a pretty post pattern just before halftime for a 32-yard score to increase Tech's lead to 28-10.
Tampa was back.
Tech sealed its travel plans with 292 yards and 21 points in the second half, including scores by Dwyer, Demaryius Thomas on a 75-yard bomb, and Richard Watson on a 7-yard run.
In the locker room after the game, Johnson and the team were given a trophy for being the Coastal Division champs. Soon after, the chorus of Tech's unofficial rap anthem, "All the Way Turnt Up," could be heard through the walls.
It seemed a long way from Miami.
After the loss to the Hurricanes in the season's third week, Johnson told his team that they needed to win out. No team was going to represent the Coastal with two losses. It was single-elimination from that point. It may have seemed an unlikely scenario. But, nine consecutive wins later, Tech is Tampa-bound.
"Up until now, I didn't grasp the concept that I was going again," offensive lineman Cord Howard said. He is one three players on Tech's roster who played in the 2006 game against the Deacons. "It seemed so far-fetched after the beginning of the season. A lot of things went on, a couple of ups and downs. This time, I just want to go and end it the right way."
Tech has an off week to enjoy its win. Many players said they have already started thinking about their next game against rival Georgia on Nov. 28.
Perhaps by then Gilbert and Smith will have decided where to hang their unofficial trophy.
Gilbert said he wants to put in the dorm room. Smith suggested giving it to his parents.
Either way, Tech is Tampa-bound.
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