Georgia Tech hands Clemson first defeat, stings title chances
ATLANTA – The Clemson players straggled off the field, trying to avoid thousands of Georgia Tech students who hopped out of the stands to celebrate.
The Tigers’ unbeaten season was over.
In all likelihood, so were their national title hopes.
Tevin Washington rushed for 176 yards – the most by a Georgia Tech quarterback – and broke the two longest runs of his career, leading a 31-17 upset of No. 6 Clemson on Saturday night.
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. But starting back Andre Ellington didn’t play because of a sprained ankle, and his replacements – freshmen D.J. Howard and Mike Bellamy – each had a fumble.
“We kind of self-destructed,” said Boyd, who had two interceptions. “We did have a shot to make a run to do something that hasn’t been done here in a long time. We’ve got to keep building from it.”
Indeed, the Tigers (8-1, 5-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) have to adjust their goals. They still lead their division. They still have the inside track to play in the ACC championship game. No wonder coach Dabo Swinney told his players afterward, “Get your heads up. We’re an 8-1 football team.”
The Yellow Jackets (7-2, 4-2) raced to a 24-3 halftime lead and made it hold up. So much for Clemson’s best start since 2000 (which also ended with a loss to Georgia Tech). So much for climbing to fifth in the BCS standings. “It’s a very disappointed locker room. I’m disappointed in the turnovers in particular,” Swinney said.
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 broke the school quarterback mark of 151 yards rushing, set by Joshua Nesbitt in 2008. Overall, Georgia Tech finished with 383 yards on the ground, compared to 95 for Clemson.
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.
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