FSU Wins the ACC
By Brandon Rink
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James Wilder Jr. was named the ACC Championship Game MVP, rushing for 69 yards and two scores.
CHARLOTTE - Never easy: that’s the tale of No. 12 Florida State’s run to its 13th ACC title, edging Georgia Tech 21-15 at Bank of America Stadium on Saturday night.
FSU didn’t score from the 4:56 mark of the second quarter on, and senior quarterback E.J. Manuel set the Yellow Jackets up with the ball at Tech 15 with 2:17 to go after an interception.
Bailing out his struggling offense, Seminoles free safety Karlos Williams’ interception with exactly a minute left sealed the win.
Williams, a sophomore, moved over to linebacker to fill in for starter Nick Moody, who left with an injury on the opening kickoff, and had the game of his young career – leading FSU in tackles, in addition to the 41-yard return off the pick.
“I was behind Moody all week in practice, getting good reps, making sure I knew my assignment alignments,” Williams said. “And after he went down the first kickoff, my name was called and I was kind of nervous, but it's the game of football – you've got to go out there and step up.
“It was my time and I think I played pretty well tonight.”
With his first championship as a head coach, Jimbo Fisher stopped an agonizing streak of seven seasons between ACC banners. The Seminoles will play in a New Year’s Day Orange Bowl, likely against Big East champion and future-ACC member Louisville (10-2).
“We had a culture there for a while that we couldn't win those games,” Fisher said. “We couldn't win 10 games in a season, now we've won 11. We won the Atlantic, it was the second time we've been here in three years.
“We now got over the hump and won the first championship, and I think…you've got to win one before you can ever say ‘I'm back’ and everybody wants you to -- you've got to win a conference championship before you win a national championship, and now our kids understand that it takes and how hard it is. But they're champions.”
FSU jumped on Georgia Tech quick, as James Wilder Jr.’s second touchdown of the game made it 21-3 ‘Noles with 4:56 to go in the first half.
The Seminoles outgained Georgia Tech 7.4 to 3.8 in yards per rush in the first half, holding the Yellow Jackets to 1-of-7 on third down conversions.
But the Yellow Jackets had plenty of chances, and it took almost of all of them to make things interesting in the second half.
Georgia Tech spoiled a quick turnaround off a Seminoles fumble beginning the second half, as a pass off a reverse by former quarterback Synjyn Days was easily intercepted by Florida State cornerback Xavier Rhodes.
Later in the third period, Yellow Jackets quarterback Tevin Washington over-shot a wide-open B-back Robert Godhigh in the end zone.
But driving to seal the game in the fourth quarter, Manuel was sacked and stripped by Emmanuel Dieke with 12:22 left, and Georgia Tech finally answered with a 13-play, 70-yard touchdown drive, cutting the FSU lead to 21-15 with 6:27 left.
“It was a heck of a football game,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said. “I was awfully proud of the effort that our guys gave. I thought they played with some heart and some intensity.
“We just ran out of time. We had our chances, didn't finish enough drives in the first half and had to kick field goals, and they're a good football team.”
Getting the ball back after Manuel's interception with one last chance to take the lead, Tevin Washington's pass across the middle was slightly off target, leading to the game-ending pick. It was the last of the Yellow Jackets' costly mistakes on the evening.
Overall, the Yellow Jackets had their second-lowest rushing output of the season, going for a mere 183 yards on 3.5 yards per carry.
For Florida State, James Wilder Jr. was named the ACC Championship Game MVP, rushing for 69 yards and two scores.