ATLANTA — Tevin Washington rushed for 176 yards and broke the two longest runs of his career, leading Georgia Tech to a 31-17 upset of No. 6 Clemson and likely snuffing out the Tigers' national title hopes Saturday night.
The Yellow Jackets (7-2, 4-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) raced to a 24-3 halftime lead and held off Clemson (8-1, 5-1) which was off to its best start since 2000, The Tigers had climbed to fifth in the BCS standings, but they figure to take a tumble and are unlikely to have enough game left to re-enter the national race.
The Yellow Jackets snapped a two-game losing streak behind their junior quarterback, who had runs of 46 and 56 yards and touchdown among his 27 carries.
He took a final knee and celebrated with Georgia Tech students who stormed the field.
Clemson, which had scored 115 points in its two previous games, turned it over four times. Tajh Boyd threw for 295 yards, and freshman Sammy Watkins had 10 catches for 159 yards and a touchdown. It wasn't enough.
Coming in, these were teams heading in opposite directions.
Georgia Tech got off to a dynamic start, winning the first six games for its best start since 1966. But Washington slumped and the triple-option bogged down badly, leading to losses at Virginia and Miami.
Clemson got off to a sluggish start with lackluster wins against Troy and Wofford. But a victory over defending national champion Auburn seemed to ignite the Tigers, who took command of the ACC race and arrived in Atlanta having put up a total of 115 points and 1,026 yards in wins over Maryland and North Carolina the two previous weeks.
Clemson drove right down the field on its first possession before Georgia Tech stiffened at its own 16. Chandler Catanzaro came on to knock through a 34-yard field goal, and the high-flying Tigers appeared off to another big offensive performance.
Not so fast. It was all Georgia Tech the rest of the first half.
The tide swung toward the Yellow Jackets when D.J. Howard caught a pass out of the backfield, but lost the ball just before he hit the ground. The officials initially ruled him down, but changed the call after a video review. Rod Sweeting was credited with a recovery at the Clemson 19, and the Georgia Tech offense took it the rest of the way, Orwin Smith going in from the 1 on fourth down.
After forcing a Clemson punt, Washington broke off the 46-yard run — the longest of his career, though that mark wouldn't last long — and Georgia Tech stretched its lead to 10-3 on Justin Moore's 23-yard field goal.
The Yellow Jackets went 80 yards in 10 plays to make it 17-3 on Smith's 3-yard TD run.
Stephen Hill, who had earlier dropped a long pass that might've gone for a touchdown, made up for it — and then some. The 6-foot-5 receiver stretched out with both arms to make a diving catch, pulling the ball into his body with the left hand before slamming into the turf. He rolled over and did a little dance with his arms, celebrating the 44-yard completion.
Two plays later, Washington ran it in from the 3 to push the lead to 24-3 with just 37 seconds left in the half.
The Tigers have been a great second-half team, and they came out of the locker room looking to pull off their biggest comeback yet. They took the kickoff and needed only four plays to reach the end zone for the first time. Boyd hooked up with Watkins on a 48-yard touchdown pass to make it 24-10.
But Georgia Tech quickly answered. Again, it was Washington with the big run. With Georgia Tech facing third-and-6 and the Clemson defense waving their arms to rev up a sizable contingent of orange-clad fans, the quarterback spotted a hole up the middle and took off for the 56-yard gain.
David Sims finished the drive with an 11-yard touchdown run, restoring Georgia Tech's 21-point lead.
After Clemson's second fumble of the game, this one by third-string running back Mike Bellamy, the Yellow Jackets were on the verge of putting the game away. They drove to a first down at the Tigers 1 and were back there on third down after a delay of game. Then, a break for the visiting team.
Defensive tackle Rennie Moore shot through a gap ahead of the snap, appearing on the replay to be clearly offsides. But the officials didn't catch it, and Moore snatched the ball away from Washington just as he was taking the snap. It was ruled a fumble, and Clemson took over at the 3.
The Tiger took advantage of their good fortune, driving 97 yards in 10 plays. Boyd tried to sneak it over, fumbled in the pile of bodies and 300-pound Brandon Thomas fell on it for the first touchdown by a Clemson offensive lineman since 1966, cutting the deficit to 31-17.