Virginia Tech receiver Danny Coale (19) makes a crucial diving catch as Georgia Tech defensive back Jemea Thomas covers during the third quarter Thursday in Atlanta.
ATLANTA -- Jeremiah Attaochu attributed his mistake to an "overdose of adrenalin."
Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson called the mistake the turning point in the game.
Attaochu's personal foul penalty allowed Virginia Tech to retain possession on its go-ahead drive and the No. 10 Hokies beat No. 20 Georgia Tech 37-26 on Thursday night to knock the Yellow Jackets out of the running for the Atlantic Coast Conference championship.
Georgia Tech led 26-21 late in the third quarter when the Hokies appeared to be stopped on a third-and-19 play from their 17. Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas couldn't find a receiver and was surrounded by Attaochu and other Georgia Tech defenders.
Thomas (6-6, 254) stayed on his feet, struggling to break free. Finally, Attaochu took a swing that hit Thomas in the back of his helmet, drawing a 15-yard personal foul penalty that gave Virginia Tech the first down.
Thomas, helped by a 44-yard run by David Wilson, led a touchdown drive that gave the Hokies the lead.
"I just had an overdose of adrenalin," Attaochu said. "I was going in at the end of the play. I was hacking for the ball and just kept hacking."
Attaochu then swung his arm to illustrate his intent.
"That's what we do in practice, we hack for the ball," he said. "It was just adrenalin, an overdose of adrenaline. There's no excuse for it, though."
Attaochu, who faces a possible suspension from the ACC, also acknowledged "I was mad he wouldn't go down."
Thomas accounted for five touchdowns and Wilson rushed for a career-best 175 yards as the Hokies moved closer to winning the ACC's Coastal Division and a spot in the conference championship game.
When you get to November, you want to be playing for something," said Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer. "You want to be playing for championships. And these guys have put us in that position."
The winner of this game has gone on to take every Coastal Division title, and Virginia Tech can make it five in seven years by winning its final two games. Rival Virginia, which has two ACC losses, is the only team that still has a chance to catch the Hokies.
Thomas threw three touchdown passes and ran for two more scores. Wilson had his seventh straight 100-yard game, already the longest streak of Beamer's quarter-century as coach.
Georgia Tech (7-3, 4-3 ACC) had its chance.
"I thought we had some really good momentum, and then we got the big penalty that I think really changed the game," Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said. "If you could point to one thing, we were going to be up five and they were punting from their 10 or 12 and we had a chance to get the ball back.
"Instead, they got the first down and scored a touchdown and took the lead. It's disappointing."
Johnson said he didn't see the foul by Attaochu.
"They never blew the whistle and Logan Thomas kept trying to move," Johnson said. "We couldn't get him down, anyway. He was a big, strong guy."
Thomas had 18 carries for 70 yards and two touchdowns and completed 7 of 13 passes for 209 yards and three touchdowns.
Georgia Tech quarterback Tevin Washington had 24 carries for 77 yards and three touchdowns.
Virginia Tech ran for 267 yards, beating Georgia Tech (243 yards rushing) at its strength.
The teams went back and forth through the second and third quarters, scoring on eight of nine possessions in one stretch.
After taking the lead, Virginia Tech (9-1, 5-1 ACC) also took advantage of a fourth-down gamble by Johnson that didn't pay off.
Johnson left himself open to second guessing when he decided to go for it on fourth-and-1 at his own 31. Washington tried to get it on a keeper, but he was stopped about a foot short.
"I elected to go for it on fourth down because I felt like we needed to score," Johnson said. "I think since the second possession of the game, if I am correct, we didn't stop them. I thought we needed to go down and score and I thought we could make a yard and we didn't."
For there, Virginia Tech moved in for the kill. The Hokies converted their own fourth-and-1, but that was an easier to call with make with Thomas to carry it. He bulled his way for a 5-yard gain, then hooked up with Chris Drager on his first career touchdown, a 14-yard pass on third down that made it 34-26.
Cody Journell sealed the victory, knocking through a 23-yard field goal with 3:02 remaining.
After a wild final minute of the second quarter, in which the teams combined for three scores that left Virginia Tech with a 21-13 lead, the Yellow Jackets took the second-half kickoff and drove it right down the field, 74 yards on eight plays.
Washington broke off a 35-yard run and also benefited from a personal foul penalty on Jack Tyler, who whacked Embry Peeples as he was running out of bounds, sending him flying toward the Yellow Jackets bench while yellow flags flew in from all directions. Washington finished it off with a 1-yard touchdown run, but he was stuffed on a 2-point conversion to leave Georgia Tech trailing 21-19.
No one could stop anyone, but Virginia Tech stopped itself. With the Hokies driving for another score, Wilson had the ball stripped away by Julian Burnett and Isaiah Johnson recovered at the 16 for the Yellow Jackets.
Georgia Tech reclaimed the lead with a lightning-quick 84-yard drive that took only seven plays. Peeples went down the sideline for a 39-yard run and Washington nearly took it in with a 29-yard gain, before finishing it off with a 1-yard dive.
That was the last hurrah for the Yellow Jackets, who were coming off an upset of then-unbeaten Clemson.