The Virginia Tech Hokies defeated Florida State 44-33 on a frigid night in Charlotte to clinch their fourth-ever appearance in the Orange Bowl.
The victory is only the Hokies (11-2, 8-0) second against Florida State (9-4, 6-2) in their last fifteen attempts.
“Just a great way to finish the senior season. It feels good to play against Florida State,” said Tyrod Taylor.
“Well, it feels like an ACC Championship and that’s the important thing. I don’t really care who’s on the other side, as long as we get that ACC Championship, that means a lot to us,” added Tech head coach Frank Beamer.
Florida State kicker Dustin Hopkins got the Seminoles on the board early with a 32-yard field goal but Tech quickly bounced back.
Tech linebacker Bruce Taylor made a diving tip on a pass from Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel, knocking the ball in the air and allowing Jeron Gouveia-Winslow to intercept the pass.
He returned the ball 26 yards for a touchdown, giving the Hokies a 7-3 lead that they would never relinquish.
Senior Christian Ponder, the normal starting quarterback for Florida State, sat this one out due to right elbow pain.
Ponder has been getting fluid in his elbow drained for a large part of the season, but blood was coming out during the past week.
“I wasn’t going to jeopardize his future for one football game,” said head coach Jimbo Fisher.
On the Hokies ensuing possession, Darren Evans exploded for a 51-yard run and followed it up with a 9-yard touchdown scamper on the next play.
The Seminoles battled right back on a scoring drive capped off with a 2-yard run by Ty Jones, closing Tech’s lead to 14-10.
It would be the first of Jones’ three rushing touchdowns on the day, even though he only carried the ball six times.
Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor, the game’s most valuable player, was just 2-6 for 12 yards in the first quarter but excelled for the remainder of the game.
A 19-yard touchdown pass to Jarrett Boykin was the first of three Taylor would toss on the evening to go along with 263 yards through the air. He also ran for a score.
His third quarter touchdown pass to David Wilson marked his 23rd on the season, which set a new school record.
Taylor’s favorite target on the night was receiver Danny Coale, who was consistently open throughout the game. Taylor found him six times for 143 yards and a score.
The Hokies built up a 35-17 third quarter lead in large part to converting 13 of 18 third down attempts. At one point Tech had converted 12 of 14 third downs and averaged 15.2 yards on those plays.
“We’ve always wanted to make third down our down, we’ve always wanted to own that down,” said Coale.
Just when it appeared the Hokies had broken the game wide open in the fourth quarter after Taylor’s five yard touchdown run, Florida State blocked the extra point attempt and ran into the opposite end zone for two points.
The failed extra point made it a two-possession ballgame at 41-26, as opposed to 42-24 if the conversion were successful.
It ultimately did not matter as the Seminoles failed to convert on fourth down attempts on two drives in the fourth quarter.
The first one was with just over nine minutes remaining when Manuel was picked off by Davon Morgan, who returned the ball 24 yards to the Seminoles 34-yard line.
The drive resulted in a 43-yard field goal by Chris Hazley to give the Hokies a 44-26 lead.
The Seminoles fought until the end, scoring their final touchdown with just seven seconds left in the game.
This is Hokies fourth Atlantic Coast Conference title in a seven-year span. Their Orange Bowl opponent will be announced Sunday evening.