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PHOTO: Yellow Jackets quarterback Justin Thomas (5) runs in for a touchdown against the North Carolina State Wolfpack (Liz Condo-USA TODAY Sports)
RALEIGH, N.C. (RamblinWreck.com and AP) - D.J. White and Quayshawn Nealy scored defensive touchdowns in the second quarter to help Georgia Tech beat North Carolina State 56-23 on Saturday.
White's 38-yard interception return and Nealy's 43-yard fumble return put the Yellow Jackets (8-2, 5-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) in firm control, blowing open a close game to keep them right behind No. 22 Duke in the Coastal Division standings.
It was a welcome contribution for a defense that has struggled amid the brilliance of the league's top total offense. That unit did its part, too, finishing with 549 total yards behind a big day from Synjyn Davis.
Davis ran for 157 yards and a touchdown, while reserve quarterback Tim Byerly ran for two scores and starter Justin Thomas ran for one.
Jacoby Brissett and Matt Dayes each ran for scores for the Wolfpack (5-5, 1-5), who led early but was outscored 49-3 over the next 35-plus minutes.
N.C. State had lost four straight games and 12 straight in league play before winning at Syracuse last week, bringing the Wolfpack a needed dose of confidence while also pulling the program within a win of bowl eligibility.
Yet N.C. State couldn't build on that win, instead watching Georgia Tech take control of the game in a bizarre second quarter.
Trailing 14-13, N.C. State drove near the goal line early in the second quarter before Nealy intercepted a pass that bounced off the foot of a teammate. He returned it 69 yards before fumbling after being chased down from behind and stripped by Jaylen Samuels.
But that took N.C. State back to the 28, and two plays later, White stepped in front of Brissett's pass for Marquez Valdes-Scantling and raced down the sideline for the interception return that made it 21-13.
Then, Nealy got a second chance for a big play, grabbing Brissett's fumble on a sack and running 43 yards for a TD that made it 28-13 with 7:12 left in the half.
At that point, N.C. State's offense had run 22 straight offensive plays going back to the final play of the first quarter. Georgia Tech didn't take an offensive snap in the quarter until the 4:02 mark, though that started another scoring drive that ended with Byerly's 2-yard keeper for a 35-13 lead just before the break.
Georgia Tech opened the second half with a 75-yard drive that ended with Byerly's 1-yard score, ending what little drama was left.
Brissett had a rough day for N.C. State. He was off-target early and took several hard hits, including one that had team medical staff examining his rib area on the sideline after Nealy's fumble return.
Brissett threw for 213 yards with one meaningless late touchdown and two interceptions. He also ran for a team-high 77 yards, as N.C. State finished with 368 total yards.