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Wake Forest kicks its way to Orange Bowl

Wake Forest's defensive players huddled near the sideline, pushing, yelling and dancing.

They were trailing 6-3 and ready to do something about it. Riley Swanson did.

Swanson intercepted a pass from Reggie Ball on the next play, sparking a comeback that gave Wake Forest its first Atlantic Coast Conference championship in 36 years and sent the Demon Deacons to their biggest bowl game in school history.

Riley Skinner followed Swanson's pick with long completions on consecutive drives, setting up Sam Swank's final two field goals that gave No. 16 Wake Forest a 9-6 win over No. 23 Georgia Tech on Saturday.

"When you get our backs against the wall, these kids respond," Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe said.

Skinner, who grew up in Jacksonville, finished 14-for-25 for 201 yards in his homecoming. He struggled most of the game and was sacked four times, but he came up big at the end.

He hooked up with John Tereshinski for a 39-yard gain on third and 10, setting up Swank's second field goal, a 33-yarder with 8:27 to play. The kick tied the score at 6.

On the next possession, Skinner found Willie Idlette down the middle for a 45-yard gain, setting up a 22-yarder that turned out to be the winner.

The Demon Deacons (11-2) won their second league title, the other coming in 1970, adding another chapter to an improbable season in Grobe's sixth year. The finale comes Jan. 2 in the Orange Bowl.

"I can't even put it in words," said linebacker Jon Abbate, who finished with 15 tackles. "It's been an unbelievable season. Unbelievable to be ACC champs, and I can't explain it."

Georgia Tech (9-4) had a chance to tie or take the lead, but it punted when coach Chan Gailey opted not to go for it on fourth and 13 from his 18.

Georgia Tech will return to Jacksonville for the Gator Bowl in four weeks, something Gator Bowl officials had hoped to avoid. ACC commissioner John Swofford even said at halftime that the bowl would be allowed to select another conference team, giving it permission to overlook a rule that would force it to select Georgia Tech (7-1 in ACC play) over Clemson, Boston College or Maryland (all 5-3 in the league).

But the Gator Bowl relented after a week of complaints and invited Georgia Tech after the game. The Yellow Jackets accepted and probably will face either Texas or a team from the Big East.

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