BLACKSBURG, Va. -- The one thing Virginia Tech has lacked of late as it heads into a gauntlet of games to decide the ACC's Coastal Division title has been a challenging game.
The Hokies got it Thursday night against Georgia Tech, a team desperate to keep itself in the title chase, even after losing quarterback Joshua Nesbitt to an injury before halftime.
David Wilson returned a kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown with 2:23 to play, rescuing the No. 20 Hokies from a sloppy effort in a 28-21 victory over the Yellow Jackets.
"It was good for us," said Rashad Carmichael, who sealed the game with an interception in the end zone with 8 seconds left. "Down the road, we've got some tough ACC games coming up."
The Hokies play at North Carolina and Miami in the next two weeks before closing their regular season at home against Virginia. Win out, and they go to the ACC title game.
Not bad for a team that started 0-2, including a loss to James Madison of the FCS.
"We control our own destiny," coach Frank Beamer said.
Wilson had a lot to do with why. The speedy sophomore, who the coaches considered redshirting with Ryan Williams and Darren Evans also available, made two huge plays.
He also scored on a 15-yard run to pull the Hokies even at 14-all early in the fourth quarter, and then was stunned when he got the opportunity returns a kickoff.
"I was excited because they had been avoiding me all game (on kickoffs)," he said, noting that he only had to dodge kicker Scott Blair, who ran him down in a similar spot last year.
Wilson eluded Blair's ankle tackle, saying, "When I saw green, I just cut the jets on."
The return came just after the Yellow Jackets drove 80 yards to tie it, and allowed the Hokies (7-2, 5-0 ACC) to win their seventh straight and remain the only unbeaten team in conference play.
The Yellow Jackets (5-4, 3-3) had a much more costly night.
They played the second half without Nesbitt, who broke his right forearm late in the first half making a tackle after throwing an interception at the Virginia Tech 1-yard line. He led one scoring drive, then ran 71 yards for another touchdown to become the all-time rushing leader among ACC quarterbacks.
"When I made the tackle, I think I hit his knee," Nesbitt said of Davon Morgan, who stepped in front of the pass and returned it 28 yards. "Once I hit it, it went numb."
The absence of Nesbitt made all the difference -- for both sides.
"It was big," Hokies linebacker Bruce Taylor said. "Their offense runs through him. He's their playmaker, the guy that makes their offense go, so getting him out of the game was big."
Last year, Nesbitt had 122 yards rushing against the Hokies, including a 39-yard run with 3 minutes left to seal the Yellow Jackets' victory. He had already run for 86 yards on six attempts when he got hurt, and was helped to the locker room for X-rays.
Still, the Yellow Jackets gave the Hokies all they could handle.
They fell behind 21-14 with 6:34 to play on Tyrod Taylor's 2-yard pass to Andre Smith, but immediately answered behind backup redshirt sophomore quarterback Tevin Washington.
He hit Tyler Melton for 42 yards on the first play after Taylor's scoring pass -- Georgia Tech's first pass completion of the game -- and they did the rest on the ground. Roddy Jones ran for 5 yards on fourth-and-4 from the Hokies 32, and Orwin Smith ran it in from the 9.
Just 2:34 remained, and Wilson needed 11 seconds to get the lead back. He caught the ball near the 10, cut left, dodged Blair's tackle and used his sprinter speed down the sideline.
"The kickoff return was just a killer," Yellow Jackets coach Paul Johnson said.
"You get momentum back and go down and score and you don't want to squib kick and give them the ball on the 40 yard-line with 2:35 and all their timeouts left. It was supposed to be a deep right kick and we kicked the ball in the middle of the field and we don't adjust."
Georgia Tech still drove to the Hokies 17, but Carmichael's interception ended it, leaving the Hokies hoping history holds. For the five previous years the ACC had held a championship game, the winner of this matchup has always represented the Coastal Division.
"It wasn't a beautiful game," Beamer said, "but the score sure was pretty."