Florida State's EJ Manuel (3) directs his team against Georgia Tech during the first half of Saturday's ACC Championship game in Charlotte, N.C.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — James Wilder Jr. ran for two touchdowns as No. 13 Florida State held off Georgia Tech 21-15 Saturday night to capture its first Atlantic Coast Conference championship since 2005 and earn a trip to the Orange Bowl.
It was Florida State’s 13th ACC title.
The heavily favored Seminoles (11-2) built a 21-6 lead at the half and held on to win, helping to erase some of the sting from last week’s 37-26 loss to their bitter rival, No. 4 Florida.
Despite its record, Georgia Tech (6-7) is bowl eligible after receiving a waiver from the NCAA on Thursday.
It looked like Georgia Tech, a two-touchdown underdog, might get blown out, but the game wasn’t decided until Karlos Williams intercepted Tevin Washington with less than a minute remaining.
The Yellow Jackets slowed down the Seminoles in the second half and forced two turnovers by quarterback EJ Manuel to get back in the game.
Defensive end Emmanuel Dieke jarred the ball from Manuel’s grasp and recovered the loose the fumble in the third quarter.
Washington, who hadn’t completed a pass all game, suddenly came alive, hitting Chris Milton for a gain of 18 yards and B.J. Bostic for 32 yards to reach the Florida State 3. Robert Godhigh picked up a critical first down on fourth-and-1 and Washington scored his 19th touchdown of the season on the following play to cut Florida State’s lead to 21-15 with 6:27 left in the game.
Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson curiously went for 2 and failed, meaning the Seminoles only had to add a field goal to make it a two-possession game.
That didn’t happen though as defensive back Jemea Thomas intercepted Manuel’s downfield pass to give the Yellow Jackets one last chance with 2:17 left in the game.
But Georgia Tech’s last ditch effort ended when Williams intercepted Washington at the Yellow Jackets 44 and returned it to the 4 to seal the victory.
Florida State captured the momentum early.
The Seminoles, who came in with the fourth-best rushing defense in the country, stuffed Georgia Tech on three plays on its first possession setting the tone for the game.
Taking advantage of a shanked punt, the Seminoles took over at the Georgia Tech 42 and scored six plays later as Devonta Freeman took a pitch from Manuel and ran around right end for a 3-yard run. It was Freeman’s eighth touchdown of the season and his seventh in the last six games.
Wilder scored on a 16-yard touchdown run and added a 1-yard plunge to make it 21-3 before the Yellow Jackets added a field goal before halftime.
Florida State outgained Georgia Tech 211-141 in the first half.
Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher had some concerns about defending Georgia Tech’s triple option offense coming into the game.
The Yellow Jackets came in averaging 40 points per game in ACC play this season and 323.3 yards rushing per game, third-best in the country.
But Florida State, led by ACC Defensive Player of the Year Bjoern Werner, swarmed running backs David Sims and Bostic in the first half, repeatedly stuffing the option. Washington didn’t complete a pass in the first half and the Yellow Jackets 1 of 7 on third downs.
Georgia Tech played without its leading rusher Orwin Smith, who sat out with an ankle injury. Smith came in averaging 9 yards per carry.
Prior to the game, a 22-year-old man fell off fourth-floor ramp leading to the upper level at Bank of America Stadium and was taken to an area hospital with what authorities called “life-threatening” injuries.