Georgia Tech running back Joe Burns was thinking about only one thing during the last drive: "The season."
"We kept saying, `We've got to score, we've got to score.' We knew if we wanted to win the ACC championship, we had to do it," said Burns, whose 1-yard TD run with one minute left lifted No. 22 Georgia Tech to a 24-21 victory over Clemson on Thursday night.
With a victory at home next week against Wake Forest, the Yellow Jackets (7-2, 6-1) clinch a tie for their first title in eight years.
For Clemson (2-8, 1-7), it was another dark night in its blackest season in 23 years. The Tigers were up 21-17 in the fourth quarter and choked off one Georgia Tech drive.
But Tech quarterback Joe Hamilton got the ball back with 2:30 to go, finding Charlie Rogers for 28 yards and Dez White for 15 to Clemson's 4. Two plays later, Burns burst in for the go-ahead score.
The Tigers'final posession couldn't get past its 23.
"If we didn't get it and we lost the ACC title, we wouldn't have anyone to point the fingers at excpet ourselves," said Hamilton, who was 17-of-32 for 190 yards. "That's what kept us going."
Georgia Tech, which came in with the league's highest-scoring offense, looked helpless most of the game.
| Georgia Tech's Travares Tillman bats the ball away from Clemson's Marcus Marti during first quarter. (AP) |
Hamilton, the conference leader in pass efficiency, twice dropped the ball while running. White, second in the league with eight TD catches, bobbled away his ninth in the second quarter after gaining two steps on the defender.
Meanwhile, Clemson quarterback Brandon Streeter was on target with a 3-yard TD pass to Marcus Martin and a 48-yarder to Brian Wofford for a 21-17 lead.
"You can't win games like that all the time," Hamilton said. "But it shows our character, shows our teamwork, shows we can come back and make the plays when we need it."
Hamilton was burned by a late Death Valley comeback two years ago in a 28-25 loss, but said he only remembered a 41-31 loss in the year's opening game against Boston College.
"We had a chance to win that, but we didn't," Hamilton said. "We've come a long way since then."
Hamilton shook off two incompletions to lead the final scoring drive. As Burns stepped over the goal line, Hamilton pumped his fists and glided back to his teammates on the sidelines.
White caught seven passes for 71 yards.
This game looked like a nationally televised mismatch. The Yellow Jackets had dazzled all season with their offensive weapons, while Clemson had given up almost 40 points a game the past four weeks.
It took almost the entire game for the Yellow Jackets to get going. Hamilton had given them a 10-7 halftime lead when he dodged linebacker Chris Jones, regained his balance and charged for a 9-yard touchdown run.
Tech's defense, maddeningly bad for a team in the hunt for a major bowl, clamped down on the Tigers despite coming in as the ACC's worst. After Travis Zachery's 10-yard touchdown run ended Clemson's first drive, the Yellow Jackets allowed only four first downs and 64 yards the rest of the half.
Streeter was 12-of-24 for 151 yards and the Tigers were held to 297 yards overall.
It was the second straight game Clemson lost in the final moments. Torry Holt's touchdown with 37 seconds to go gave North Carolina State a 46-39 victory at Clemson two weeks ago.
The Tigers have lost league games by 10 points or less.
Talk has been crazy the past two months that Tommy West's time as Clemson coach is growing short. "I don't worry about me as much as our players, they're doing what I ask them every week," he said.
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