Georgia Tech vs. North Carolina
When: noon Saturday
Where: Chapel Hill, N.C.
TV, radio: Raycom (Charter channel 9), 1240-AM
Web site: www.ramblinwreck.com
ATLANTA — Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson had renewed cause for optimism as his No. 22 Yellow Jackets moved back into The Associated Press Top 25 on Sunday and looked forward to another key ACC game this week at No. 19 North Carolina.
Georgia Tech’s Atlantic Coast Conference championship hopes were revived by its dramatic 31-28 victory over then-No. 16 Florida State on Saturday.
The win was notable in the ACC standings, as it moved Georgia Tech back into the lead in the Coastal Division and knocked the Seminoles, who fell to No. 24, off the top spot in the Atlantic Division.
It also was memorable for the unexpected lead role played by Johnson’s freshmen.
First-year safety Cooper Taylor made his first start for Dominique Reese, who was held out with a head injury. Freshman Rashaad Reid made his second straight start for cornerback Jahi Word-Daniels, who was held out with a hamstring injury.
The two freshmen played like veteran stars all the way to the game-saving play on their final defensive snap.
When Florida State trying to score a go-ahead touchdown in the final minute, Taylor put a helmet-to-football hit on Florida State fullback Marcus Sims at the goal line, causing a fumble that was recovered by Reid in the end zone with 45 seconds left.
But before Saturday, most of the big plays had been coming from such veterans as senior defensive linemen Michael Johnson, Darryl Richards and Vance Walker.
Before Saturday, the breakout star on defense had been sophomore defensive end Derrick Morgan.
Saturday was freshman day for the Yellow Jackets. Taylor returned an interception 28 yards to set up a touchdown and led Georgia Tech with 10 tackles. Reid had three tackles and the big fumble recovery.
Another freshman cornerback, Michael Peterson, tipped the pass that was intercepted by Taylor and was third on the team with six tackles, including one for a loss of three yards.
Redshirt freshman linebacker Kyle Jackson had four stops.
"Our guys in the secondary, I mean we’re probably playing without three or four of our best guys," Johnson said. "But the young guys went out there and played. Michael Peterson played a bunch. That’s the first he’s really played all year on defense. I think he did a good job. ... There were a lot of guys out there who haven’t played."
The victory was preserved, and as fans rushed onto the field, the freshmen led the celebration for a defining moment in Georgia Tech’s season.
Though road victories at Boston College and Clemson earlier in the season were big, the victory over Florida State was the first over a ranked opponent in Johnson’s first season in Atlanta. It also was Georgia Tech’s first win in 13 tries over a Florida State team coached by Bobby Bowden, and it made the Yellow Jackets (7-2 with two wins over Championship Subdivision teams) bowl-eligible for a 12th straight season.
Georgia Tech’s game at North Carolina suddenly carries far more importance in the ACC race than any observer would have predicted before the season. Georgia Tech, which is 4-2 in ACC games, holds a half-game lead over Virginia and Miami, each 3-2, in the Atlantic Division. North Carolina, 6-2 overall, is next at 2-2 in the division.
The Georgia Tech-North Carolina game was set for a noon start on Sunday.
Georgia Tech already has a home loss to Virginia, so it must worry about tiebreakers in the division race. The Yellow Jackets will play Miami on Nov. 20 in Atlanta.