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Nov. 30, 2012
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (theACC.com) – Georgia Tech senior quarterback Tevin Washington admits the 2012 football season has often resembled the ultimate roller coaster ride.
“I feel like there's been times in the season where the momentum was shifting one way or the other for whatever reason, and we had to continue to be mentally strong and just keep faith that we did everything we could in our power to put us in a position that things would work out -- work themselves out and give us a chance to go to the (Atlantic Coast Conference) Championship,” Washington said.
After all the ups and downs the Yellow Jackets endured, that faith was rewarded. Washington will lead his team into Saturday’s 8 p.m. ACC Football Championship Game against Florida State at Bank of America Stadium.
Things admittedly looked bleak when Georgia Tech owned a 1-3 ACC record after four league games, but four consecutive conference wins in the second half of the season earned the Yellow Jackets (6-6, 5-3) the right to take on the 13th-ranked Seminoles (10-2, 7-1) before a national ESPN audience on Saturday evening. A trip to the Orange Bowl awaits the winner, in addition to the ACC trophy.
“We were fortunate enough that we took care of things we could control, and everything else took care of itself,” said Washington.
For Florida State, the road to Charlotte was smoother and considerably less stressful. Turning back fellow nationally-ranked Clemson by a 49-37 score in a highly entertaining scorefest on Sept. 22, placed the Seminoles firmly on the inside track to the Atlantic Division title. A 17-16 upset loss at NC State on Oct. 6 raised questions, but Florida State responded by running table on the remainder of its ACC schedule to land in the ACC Championship Game for the second time in three years.
“We're very proud to be here and honored to be here,” Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher said shortly after arriving here Friday afternoon. “I think our kids have worked very hard this year. One of our goals was to be able to get to this game, and then the next goal is to win this game. I think it's a great step for our program… and the direction we're going.”
Saturday night’s game offers an intriguing matchup between a Georgia Tech offense that ranks third nationally in rushing yards per game (323.3) and a Florida State squad that ranks second nationally in total defense (249.4 yards per game).
“Like most any game, the turnover battle will be huge, especially for us,” Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson said. “We need to be on the positive side of that. We need to be not only efficient in running the ball, but we're going to have to score some points and not give up big, explosive plays in the kicking game. We've really struggled with that aspect in a lot of games this year. And if we can do those three things, you know, I think we can hang around.”
Led by the ACC Defensive Player of the Year in junior end Bjoern Werner, the Seminoles have allowed just a shade over 85 yards per game on the ground. They are no slouches offensively either under the direction of veteran quarterback EJ Manuel – as their 41.5 point per game scoring average attests. Many have looked at the overall data, as well as the won-lost record, and penciled Florida State in as the heavy favorite. Seminole senior placekicker Dustin Hopkins, however, believes taking the Yellow Jackets lightly would be ultimate folly.
“They're going to have a chip on their shoulder, and they're scary, just because I know they're a talented team,” said Hopkins, the NCAA’s third all-time leading scorer with 456 career points. “They have a lot of weapons.”
Hopkins said the Seminoles need look only as far as Washington, whose 36 career rushing touchdowns are the most all-time by an ACC quarterback, or the Nov. 10 game in which Georgia Tech put up a frightening 68 points in a win over a North Carolina team that finished the season 8-4.
“It’s not a ‘gimme’ game by any means,” Hopkins said. “I hope none of our guys think that way, and I don't think we do. We'd be sadly mistaken, we'd be remiss if we came in lightly to this game.”
Each team will be looking to rebound from disappointing nonconference losses to in-state rivals in their regular-season finales last weekend– Florida State to Florida, Georgia Tech to Georgia.
“No one wants to lose a game and nobody wants to lose to Florida,” Hopkins said. “But that being said, our situation would not be very different if we won that game this past weekend. We still have the ACC Championship to play for, and then the implications of that game have huge implications on our (postseason) bowl and where we play.”
Saturday night’s meeting will be the first between the teams since 2009, and the first time ever the Seminoles and Yellow Jackets have faced off in a non-regular season game or at a neutral site.