Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Georgia Tech's Steven Sylvester upends Virginia Tech's David Wilson while tackling him during the first half of Thursday night's game at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta.
ATLANTA -- Like two heavyweight boxers, No. 21 Georgia Tech and 10th-ranked Virginia Tech went toe-to-toe for pretty much three quarters of Thursday night's Atlantic Coast Conference Coastal Division showdown at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
Unfortunately for the Yellow Jackets, it was the visiting Hokies who finally delivered the knockout blow with 10 unanswered points the fourth quarter of their 37-26 victory.
"When you get two good football teams together, you're going to have some momentum swings," Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said after his Hokies (9-1, 5-1) remained in control of their own destiny in the Coastal Division race. "That's what happened (Thursday). I'm glad we got the last one."
The loss was a tough one for Tech (7-3, 4-3), which saw its hopes for a return to the ACC Championship Game dashed.
"Can you imagine trying to swallow a baseball? Pretty much like that. That's how I feel," said Tech running back Embry Peeples, who led the Jackets with 84 yards on just three carries, when asked how bitter a pill the loss was to swallow. "We've just got to put it behind us and come out next week and go give Duke our all."
Ironically, a literal punch by Tech linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu that connected was one of a handful of plays that ultimately swung momentum towards Virginia Tech (9-1, 5-1).
With the Jackets leading 26-21 late in the third quarter, the 6-foot-3, 230-pound sophomore, who is widely regarded by his teammates and coaches as one of Tech's most intense, but also one of its steadiest, players, was flagged for a personal foul penalty after sacking Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas.
Instead of punting from deep in their own territory into a fairly strong wind, the Hokies gained an automatic first down along with the 15-yard mark off, and eventually scored five plays later on one of Thomas' three touchdown passes on the evening to take a 27-26 lead with 32 seconds left in the third quarter.
"I just had an overdose of adrenaline," admitted Attaochu, who finished with 10 combined tackles and assists, including 2 tackles for loss. "I was ready to go in, and when I initially made contact with (Thomas), I was hacking for the ball. So, I just kept hacking, and that's what we do in practice. We try to hack for the ball when we make contact with a player who is still standing up.
"So, I just kept hacking and had an overdose of adrenaline. That's no excuse for it, though."
Still, Tech trailed by just the single point following the resulting score from the drive extended by Attaochu's penalty, though another turning point came when Tevin Washington came up short on fourth and 2 from its own 31-yard line less than two minutes into the fourth quarter.
"Instead of following my block, I tried to take the ball and get right behind the center and get the first down," said Washington, who ran for 77 yards and a career-high three touchdowns Thursday, and completed 5 of 10 passes for 97 yards, of the fourth-down attempt. "I should have just got behind the block."
And the Hokies eventually turned the short field into Thomas' final TD pass of the night -- a 14-yard strike to Chris Drager -- to push the lead to 34-26 with 9:49 play and firmly seize momentum.
But while those two plays were big factors in the outcome, head coach Paul Johnson pointed out there were others that played just as big a role.
Besides the productive night from both Thomas, who accounted for 279 yards of total offense and five touchdowns, and David Wilson, who ran for 175 yards on 23 carries, there was one area in particular that was heavily weighted towards Virginia Tech that weighed on Johnson's mind.
The Hokies were 10 of 16 on third-down conversions, with many conversions coming on third-and-long situations.
By contrast, the Jackets, who came into the game leading the nation in that category at 57.6 percent, were only 5 of 13 (38.5 percent) on third down for the evening.
"That's pretty good, considering they had a bunch of third and elevens, third and twelves," Johnson said. "Those things are big. That's kind of hidden yardage when that happens. But yeah, they converted a lot of third and longs.
"We just didn't make enough plays. We just didn't get it done. Offense, defense, special teams. Nobody got it done. Offensively, we were't efficient enough. We didn't score enough points. Defensively, we had a hard time stopping the run. You let teams normally (run for) 267 (yards) -- when you do that, you're not usually going to win."