Technically speaking, this wasn’t the ACC championship game, but you can’t go wrong assuming the winner between the Techs will play for the conference title. It has happened every year the league has staged a championship game, and it figures to happen in 2011, too.
But which Tech might it be this time? The one that was ranked in preseason and is ranked still, or the one that began play unranked, worked its way to No. 12 in the polls, fell out after two ugly road losses but wedged its way back after upsetting No. 5 Clemson? The former is officially known as the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, the latter as the Georgia Institute of Technology. For purposes of space, we’ll call them Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech.
For a series only in its ninth installment, this has become a corker. The past three meetings — those since Paul Johnson arrived here — had been decided by a total of 15 points. What transpired Thursday night at a not-quite-full Bobby Dodd Stadium was more of the same. One Tech got ahead. Then the other Tech did. Then the first Tech scored 16 consecutive points to retake the lead. Wild, wacky stuff.
Details? Sure. Georgia Tech led 7-0. Then Virginia Tech went ahead 14-7. Then Georgia Tech kicked a field goal to draw within four points. Then — shades of the Miami game — the Jackets allowed a touchdown inside the half’s final minute. The Hokies led 21-10 and seemed to have taken control. But no.
Georgia Tech drove 61 yards in 44 seconds to a catalytic field goal as the half expired. Then the Jackets, aided by a Virginia Tech personal foul, opened the second half with a drive to one touchdown. The Hokies’ lead was two points. Virginia Tech moved inside the GT 20, at which point Julian Burnett smacked the ball from David Wilson’s grasp. Soon Georgia Tech was ahead by five points and poised to throw a hammerlock on the proceedings, whereupon linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu threw a punch.
The Jackets had stopped Virginia Tech. Attaochu was about to complete a third-down sack of quarterback Logan Thomas. But Thomas, who weighs 254 pounds — 31 more than Attaochu — didn’t go down, and Hokies linemen rushed to his aid, and Attaochu wound up taking a swing at an opponent. He was flagged for a personal foul; he was lucky he wasn’t ejected, and he might yet face a suspension.
To his credit, Attaochu didn’t t dabble in denial afterward. “It was an overdose of adrenaline,” he said. “There’s no excuse for it.”
Said Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech’s coach: “The big penalty kind of changed the game.”
Handed its mulligan, Virginia Tech did what a good team is supposed to do. It fashioned a drive that changed the careening game yet again. The massive Thomas scored on, of all things, a 12-yard quarterback sneak, and the Hokies were back ahead. Then Paul Johnson did the Paul Johnson thing and went for it on fourth down on the wrong side of midfield — at the Tech 31, to be exact — and Tevin Washington was halted.
“Maybe we could have called a better play,” Johnson said. “But we didn’t execute the play that was called very well, either.”
Why had he gone for it? “I felt like we needed to score. From the second possession of the game, we couldn’t stop them.”
Again the Hokies took their windfall and cashed it in. A Thomas touchdown pass made it an eight-point game. Washington slipped and fell trying to pass on third down, and Georgia Tech had to punt. By now Virginia Tech’s offensive line was pushing the Jackets’ defense backward, just as had happened over the final 10 minutes of the first half, and a field goal with 3:02 to play pushed the Hokie lead to 37-26.
And that was that. A crackling game had, at least for the home side, fizzled at the end. The winning Tech is again in playing-for-a-championship mode, while the losing Tech has been eliminated from the division race. To be blunt, Virginia Tech seemed the more talented team for much of the game, but Georgia Tech will long wonder what would have happened had Jeremiah Attaochu kept his hands to himself.
By Mark Bradley