Florida State won its third consecutive ACC championship and took a major step toward being included in the college football playoff with a 37-35 victory Saturday against Georgia Tech in front of a crowd of 64,808 at Bank of America Stadium.
The second-ranked and defending national champion Seminoles (13-0), who also entered the game ranked fourth in the college football playoff rankings, will wait until later Sunday to see if they will be included in the four-team playoff.
Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher doesn’t think the playoff committee has much choice in including his team, although it had dropped Florida State from the top spot to fourth in recent weeks behind one-loss teams Alabama, Oregon and Texas Christian – all of whom won this weekend.
"I don’t have a message for them," Fisher said. "There’s no decision to be made. The decision just got made."
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Florida State had to overcome a confounding Georgia Tech rushing attack to win its 29th consecutive game. The 12th-ranked Yellow Jackets (10-3), who rushed for 331 yards (2 yards off the ACC championship game record) out of their triple-option offense, will likely represent the ACC in the Orange Bowl on Dec. 31.
"We knew they’d be tough with their option," Fisher said. "But we scored every time we had to. We never stopped them, but we slowed them down just enough."
Saturday’s game was tied 28-28 in the third quarter before the Seminoles pulled away with three field goals by Roberto Aguayo.
The Yellow Jackets cut it to 37-35 on a 25-yard pass from quarterback Justin Thomas to Darren Waller with 1 minute, 47 seconds left.
Georgia Tech’s onside kick attempt failed and the Seminoles were able to run out the clock.
The Seminoles got the ball first and didn’t pick up a first down.
That was about as good as it got for either team’s defense through the first three quarters.
Georgia Tech scored the first three times it had the ball, opening the game with 27 consecutive running plays over two drives.
Florida State relied on the running of freshman Dalvin Cook (177 yards and one touchdown in his first start) and the arm of quarterback James Winston to keep pace with the Yellow Jackets.
Both offenses took turns scoring in the first half. Georgia Tech took a 7-0 lead on a 1-yard run by Synjyn Days on a drive that employed eight runs.
Florida State countered with a 46-yard pass from Winston to tight end Nick O’Leary.
Georgia Tech came back with another run-only touchdown drive, this one resulting in a 1-yard run by Days.
Florida State answered on the third play of the second quarter with a 1-yard run by Cook.
The only difference in Georgia Tech’s offense on its third drive came when quarterback Justin Thomas finally attempted a pass. It was a key one, going 27 yards to Deon Hill to the Seminoles’ 8. Two plays later, fullback Zach Laskey scored from 4 yards, and the Yellow Jacket ha a 21-14 lead.
The Seminoles needed just six plays to tie it again when Winston hit Rashad Greene on a 44-yard scoring pass.
Georgia Tech’s offense finally began to show some signs of cracking when the Yellow Jackets were forced to punt on their next possession. Florida State took advantage, getting a 9-yard touchdown pass from Winston to Greene for a 28-21 lead with 30 seconds left in the half.
Georgia Tech had 214 rushing yards at halftime, which was fifth most in ACC championship game history – for a complete game.
The Yellow Jackets reverted to form to open the second half, going 77 yards on 14 plays, with Days scoring his third touchdown to cap it on a 1-yard run. That tied it 28-28 with 8:01 left in the third quarter.
That’s when both offenses began to slow. The difference was the always reliable Aguayo, who made field goals of 33, 32 and 28 yards.
The last one, with 4:28 remaining, made it a two possession game and was too much for Georgia Tech to overcome.