ATLANTA — Georgia took a page out of Georgia Tech’s playbook, rushing for 339 yards to upset the seventh-ranked Yellow Jackets 30-24 Saturday night and put a real damper on the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.
Washaun Ealey rushed for 183 yards, while Caleb King rambled for 166 yards and two touchdowns as the Bulldogs (7-5) reclaimed state bragging rights in a disappointing year and handed the Yellow Jackets (10-2) a huge setback in what has been their best season in nearly two decades.
Georgia Tech’s loss completed a dismal day for the two teams that will meet next week in Tampa, Fla., for the ACC title. Earlier, Clemson was blown out by South Carolina 34-17.
Just as they did a year earlier, the Yellow Jackets put themselves in a deep hole in the first half, falling behind 17-3 to a Georgia team that opened huge holes for its running back tandem. Ealey, a freshman, had already set a new career high early in the second quarter.
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Unlike 2008, when Georgia Tech rallied from 16 points down for a 45-42 victory that snapped a seven-year losing streak to the Bulldogs, the Jackets couldn’t come all the way back. The nation’s second-best rushing team was held to 205 yards on the ground.
After Blair Walsh missed a potentially clinching field goal from 55 yards out, only his second miss of the season, Georgia Tech converted a fourth down at the Georgia 46 with plenty of time to run it the rest of the way.
But coach Paul Johnson abandoned the triple option, taking three straight deep shots through the air — all incomplete — to leave the Yellow Jackets facing fourth-and-10. Quarterback Josh Nesbitt, who returned to the game on a gimpy ankle after being injured in the first half, found Demaryius Thomas wide open along the sideline for what would have been enough for the first down.
But Georgia Tech’s top receiver let the ball slip through his hands with no one around.
Georgia has been one of the nation’s most disappointing teams, losing more games than it had in any season during Mark Richt’s nine years as coach. Amid calls for him to shake up his coaching staff, the Bulldogs defied their critics and pushed the coach’s record against Georgia Tech to 8-1.
For good measure, the Bulldogs likely improved their bowl prospects.
King was part of a dynamic sequence early in the third quarter, when Georgia Tech could have launched another comeback but were instead answered right away.
The Yellow Jackets closed to 17-10 on their third play from scrimmage when Thomas turned a short pass into a 77-yard touchdown. He caught a throw just across the line, stiff-armed Vance Cuff and took off down the sideline for his 10th play of the year covering at least 50 yards.
But Georgia took the very next snap to the house. King got the handoff, blew through yet another big opening up the middle and zigzagged his way down the field for a 75-yard touchdown that quickly silenced the home crowd.
Georgia Tech never caught up. Walsh added field goals of 38 and 43 yards to offset a pair of Georgia Tech touchdowns: Jonathan Dwyer’s 5-yard run and a 1-yard sneak by Nesbitt.
The Bulldogs had two 100-yard runners in a game for the first time since 2004 and piled up the most rushing yards of Richt’s tenure. By comparison, Nesbitt was Georgia Tech’s top rusher with a mere 41 yards. Dwyer, the reigning ACC player of the year, was held to 33 yards on 14 carries.
When it was over, Georgia got back at the Yellow Jackets for snatching pieces of the famed Sanford Stadium hedge following their 2008 upset. This time, defensive lineman Kade Weston planted a huge flag with the Georgia “G” near the middle of the field.