TAMPA — Georgia Tech's Jonathan Dwyer wasn't about to have folks see him as simply the other running back in the ACC title game Saturday night.
While Clemson's C.J. Spiller had an MVP performance that might mean a trip to the Heisman Trophy ceremony, it was Dwyer's 15-yard touchdown run with 1:20 left helping the Yellow Jackets rally for a thrilling 39-34 win at Raymond James Stadium that gave them their first outright league title since 1990.
Most important, the No. 12-ranked Yellow Jackets (11-2) will now go to the Orange Bowl. They last went to a major bowl in 1967, the Orange, where they lost to Florida.
"I couldn't be prouder of our football team," said Tech coach Paul Johnson, who won a conference title in his second season in Atlanta. "We found a way to win."
The destination for the No 25 Tigers (8-5) isn't as glamorous.
With the Gator Bowl seemingly set to take Florida State so it can give retiring coach Bobby Bowden a grandiose send-off — despite objections from other ACC teams — it appears the Tigers will drop to the league's fifth tie-in, the Music City Bowl in Nashville against a SEC.
"You've just got to give them all the credit. They made one more play than we did," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said, adding how dejected his players were.
"Somewhere along the line, we'll grow from this painful experience and learn from it."
Georgia Tech and Clemson, both of who were coming off losses to intrastate rivals Georgia and South Carolina, respectively, has been one of the most competitive matchups in the nation in recent years. Among their past 15 games, 12 now have been decided by five points or fewer. That includes a shootout in September that saw Tech take a 24-0 lead, fall behind then rally for a 30-27 win.
This one had all that drama.
And more given the stakes.
The Yellow Jackets, the top-scoring team in the league, scored on their first seven possessions and led 33-27 as Clemson couldn't stop the triple-option attack.
But their perfection ended when Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers stopped quarterback Josh Nesbitt for no gain on fourth and 1 from the Clemson 37 midway through the final quarter.
Spiller, who scored four touchdowns and finished with a career-high 233 yards, followed with a 54-yard burst down the left sideline that set up Andre Ellington's 1-yard dive to give the Tigers the lead, 34-33, with 6:11 left.
"C.J. played a great game," Johnson said. "He's a tremendous player, and I wish him the best in the NFL."
Nesbitt (103 yards rushing and a touchdown, 136 yards passing and a touchdown), who saw a comeback bid end last week with a dropped pass, engineered a long drive on this night that Dwyer capped in stellar fashion. It was his second score, and he finished with a team-high 110 yards.
"Great players make plays at the end," Johnson said.
A two-point run by Nesbitt was initially ruled good but overturned on review.
And Clemson had one last chance for its first ACC title since 1991. And with Spiller, no one among the 57,227 at Raymond James Stadium — not the ones in orange, not the ones in white — believed that couldn't happen.
But end Derrick Morgan, the league's defensive player of the year, stopped quarterback Kyle Parker short of the first down on fourth and 2 from the Clemson 43 to seal the win with 29 seconds left as Tech fans hurled oranges onto the field.
"We finally got a stop when we needed it there," Johnson said. "It was hairy there at the end. But like I said, our good players made plays."
Brian Landman can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3347.