ATLANTA -- The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets find themselves in new territory now.
No longer are they a team that comes close against top-notch opponents but falls short.
They are a team that vanquished then-No. 5 Clemson, and, in the process, qualified for a bowl game.
"It really wasn't like an upset to us," said defensive end Greg Gathers. "We knew we could play with any team in the country. I mean, we're two plays away from being 8-0."
The Jackets' 31-28 win over the Tigers on Saturday at Death Valley was another in an increasingly long line of games that have gone down to the wire. The Jackets might have beaten Florida State but for a disputed pass interference call. They might have beaten North Carolina State if not for Kerry Watkins' missed reception in overtime.
No more might-have-beens. Tech is in the Associated Press Top 25 for the first time this season, and it's because their offense and defense showed up to play Saturday.
And for Watkins, who made a spectacular 16-yard touchdown reception with seven seconds left for the win, it was all about redemption.
"This was a big eraser," said Watkins, who had four catches for 51 yards on the final drive.
"It couldn't have been in a better situation for a better kid," said receivers coach David Kelley, "because everybody always remembers that ball he didn't catch at North Carolina State. "I was really proud of all of them."
The play was a microcosm of Watkins' season. He fell down, got back up, and caught the ball.
"Kerry has been through some things that were not so good," said quarterback George Godsey. "He works hard all the time, and this is great for him."
The offense, fresh off whipping hapless Wake Forest and Duke, rolled to 550 total yards against a Clemson defense that ranked near the top of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The defense held the Tigers to a season-low 354 total yards. Like Watkins, the defense has endured a fair amount of criticism for all the yards it has allowed, especially against the passing game.
The Jackets held Clemson to 207 passing yards, and receiver Rod Gardner managed just three catches for 27 yards.
All that in one of the biggest games of the George O'Leary era.
"We've played for a national championship," said O'Leary, who was an assistant coach under Bobby Ross when the Jackets won the national title in 1990. "It's not as big as that, but it's close."
It was the biggest road win for Tech since the Jackets won at No. 1-ranked Virginia in 1990, and will be duly recorded as one of the top wins in school history.
Tech's fourth straight win laid to rest any lingering doubts after its 0-2 start in the ACC, and now, with a home date against Virginia followed by road games at Maryland and Georgia, the Jackets can get serious about earning a New Year's Day bowl trip.
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