ATLANTA, GA--628 yards. 29 first downs. 56 points.
And that was just in the first half.
Georgia Tech fought off two furious rallies by Clemson to hold on for a 45-42 victory, clinching second place in the Atlantic Coast Conference and forcing the Tigers (5-5) to win at South Carolina to earn a bowl berth.
The Georgia Tech offense piled up 537-yards, with Heisman candidate Joe Hamilton throwing for 322-yards and a career-best five touchdown passes while rushing for 106-yards on 19 attempts.
“Just when you think you’re about to get him he gives you that little stutter-step and the next thing you know he’s gone. He’s like wind,” said Clemson defensive tackle Jason Holloman.
The Yellow Jackets jumped on Clemson early, reeling off 21 points in the first quarter behind Kelly Campbell’s two touchdown receptions.
“I thought that after the touchdown that made it 21-0, we were going to put them away,” Campbell said.
To make things worse for the Tigers, quarterback Brandon Streeter was crushed by Georgia Tech linebackers Ross Mitchell and Ricardo Winbush just after he released a pass. The blow dislocated Streeter’s hip and he had to be carted off by stretcher.
“I feel bad for Brandon,” said Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden. “He came back after getting hurt and got hurt again. I thought that the team reacted like they did the last time and it didn’t let that bother them too much.”
Woodrow Dantzler replaced Streeter and was immediately effective, hitting tight end Pat Cyrgalis for a 17-yard score to cap an 80-yard drive and briefly swinging the momentum back into Tiger’s corner.
The Clemson crowd was quickly silenced, however, when Hamilton connected with tight end Conrad Andrzejewski for his third touchdown pass of the half.
From that point until halftime, the Tigers took over.
Dantzler hit Rod Gardner on a 41-yard bomb on the ensuing possession, moving the Tigers inside Georgia Tech territory. Two plays later, Dantzler sprinted around right end for 22-yards and a score, cutting the Yellow Jacket lead to 14.
After holding Georgia Tech to one yard in three plays, DoMarco Fox blitzed through the Yellow Jacket line to get a hand on Dan Dyke’s punt. The roll balled dead at the Georgia Tech 29. Dantzler scrambled 20-yards on fourth and two at the 21. Travis Zachary dove in for the score and the Tigers were within seven, 28-21.
Hamilton fumbled on Georgia Tech’s next possession. Clemson’s Robert Carswell came up with the ball at the Yellow Jacket’s 41-yard line. Ten plays later, Zachery again found the end zone from one-yard out and the game was tied at 28.
To the dismay of Clemson coach Tommy Bowden, Georgia Tech came out strong for the second half, this time lighting up the Tiger defense for ten quick points to take a 38-28 lead.
“The last thing I told them at the half was don’t let them have any big plays and that’s exactly what they did. We gave up some big plays and they got ahead of us real quick,” Bowden said.
Once again, Clemson fought back. The Tigers outscored Georgia Tech 14-7 the rest of the way and had a chance to take the lead on late drive. On third and three from the Yellow Jacket’s 39, Clemson tried a reverse to Joe Don Reames. Reames was swamped in the backfield and lost four yards. On fourth and seven with 3:15 left to play, Dantzler’s deep pass to Mal Lawyer in the end zone was broken up Safety Chris Young, effectively sealing the Tigers fate.
“It was a shootout. It was a war. We were playing for second place in the conference and it was a war out there. We made the plays when we had to at the end,” Hamilton said.
Clemson next faces South Carolina in Columbia next Saturday, where the Tigers will have to win to become bowl eligible.
“We have our destiny in our own hands,” Bowden said.