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Seminoles beat Yellow Jackets for ACC title

The SportsXchange

CHARLOTTE -- Given the seven years that preceded them, perhaps it was only fitting that the final 60 minutes that stood between Florida State and its first Atlantic Coast Conference championship since 2005 wouldn't go easily.

A dominant first half had No. 13 FSU cruising toward an easy win over Georgia Tech, but a series of second-half miscues left the Seminoles once again holding their breaths late in the fourth quarter.

It wasn't until Karlos Williams' juggling interception with a minute to go that Florida State could finally exhale and get to the business of celebrating a 21-15 win over the Yellow Jackets at Bank of America Stadium.

The win gives FSU its second ACC title since the league expanded in 2005 and its first for head coach Jimbo Fisher.

"That first one, you've got to get over that hump," Fisher said. "Once you get over that hump, you know what it takes."

The Seminoles also have clinched a spot in the Orange Bowl, to be played on New Year's Day against an opponent to be determined. Thanks to an NCAA waiver granted earlier this week, Georgia Tech will also play in a bowl game despite finishing with a 6-7 record.

"Everybody has told them they're not very good and that they don't belong, and I think they wanted to show that they did, that they did belong," Yellow Jackets coach Paul Johnson said. "Like I said, they came out and they played their tail off, played with some effort and some heart."

Florida State led 21-6 at halftime, but allowed Georgia Tech back into the game thanks to three FSU fumbles, two by quarterback EJ Manuel.

Tevin Washington's 1-yard touchdown run with 6:27 to go in the fourth quarter cut Tech's deficit to 21-15 and, on the ensuing drive, Manuel threw a deep interception that gave the Yellow Jackets the ball at their own 15-yard line with 2:17 to go.

"You know, this team hasn't ever really quit," Johnson said. "I mean, some people might want to say that, but they haven't ever really quit."

Tech had just converted its fourth fourth-down attempt of the night when Williams grabbed his first career interception.

"What a play by Karlos Williams and that defense," Fisher said.

The sophomore usually plays safety but spent time this week practicing at linebacker. He was then thrust into action when starter Nick Moody suffered a head injury on the opening kickoff.

"I just broke on it and tried to tip it up and bat it down," Williams said of his interception. "But luckily it tipped up in the air and I just tried to make a sure catch and that's what happened. I'm just happy I got the call and we're ACC champs."

Any distractions or adversity Florida State faced in the week leading up to Saturday's Atlantic Coast Conference Championship Game didn't add up to much in the first half.

Despite losing top tackler Cornellius Carradine to a torn ACL last week and learning of defensive coordinator Mark Stoops' impending departure to become the head coach at Kentucky, Florida State corralled Georgia Tech's triple-option offense and only allowed the Yellow Jackets a touchdown after the Seminoles' offense turned the ball over.

Regardless of who played quarterback for Georgia Tech -- Washington and Vad Lee both had opportunities -- the No. 13 Seminoles were well prepared for the Yellow Jackets offense despite having not faced it since 2009, a year before Fisher took over as head coach.

Georgia Tech finished with 183 rushing yards -- well below its season average. The Yellow Jackets' longest play was a 42-yard pass from Lee to Darren Waller that set up Georgia Tech's first points, a 27-yard field goal by Chris Tanner.

"We could drive the ball down, but we didn't hit any big, explosive plays," Johnson said. "And when defenses can do that to you, where you have to do it five, six, seven yards at a pop, it's hard to be consistent enough to get it down and there and keep it going."

The Seminoles, meanwhile, ran with ease. FSU racked up 194 rushing yards on 37 carries (5.2 yards per carry) and scored with a pair of touchdowns from game MVP James Wilder Jr. and another from Devonta Freeman. Tech had come into the game allowing 143.92 rushing yards per game.

"We wanted to (establish the run)," Fisher said. "We felt we really could so we could get the play-action things going later. You couldn't play a better first half than we did offensively."

NOTES: Florida State and Georgia Tech were each making its third ACC Championship Game appearances, and both came into the contest with a 1-1 record. FSU beat Virginia Tech in 2005 and lost to the Hokies in 2010. The Yellow Jackets lost to Wake Forest in 2006 and topped Clemson in 2009. ... Florida State came into the game with a 12-9-1 record in the all-time series with Georgia Tech, but the Yellow Jackets were on a two-game winning streak. The two last met in 2009. ... Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech are the only two schools to represent the Coastal Division in the ACC Championship Game. ... With James Wilder's 16-yard rushing touchdown in the second quarter, Florida State reached 36 total rushing touchdowns for the season, eclipsing the school record of 35 set in 1995. Wilder added a second rushing touchdown later in the quarter.

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