WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. - It was the type of drive Georgia Tech couldn't put together against Florida State in September, much less a week ago against North Carolina State.
But Saturday near the end of a convincing 24-7 rout of Wake Forest, the Yellow Jackets showed the latest sign that this year's surprising success might be lasting.
Georgia Tech, leading 17-7 in the fourth quarter, went on a 16-play, 78-yard touchdown drive - all on the ground - that consumed 8:02 off the clock and ended the Demon Deacons' chances of winning.
"It was tremendously satisfying for our offensive line and for our backs," Yellow Jackets coach Chan Gailey said. "That's the way you like to end the game."
And it's something the Yellow Jackets (4-3, 2-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) haven't demonstrated an ability to do this season. After dominating the Seminoles for 3 1/2 quarters, Georgia Tech's inability to finish cost them an upset. Against the Wolfpack - a game the Yellow Jackets won - Georgia Tech allowed N.C. State a glimmer of hope when it couldn't run out the clock.
Not on Saturday. Tailback P.J. Daniels capped his 33-carry, 175-yard performance with 10 rushes, 53 yards and a one-yard touchdown plunge on the scoring drive that ran the clock from 9:42 to 1:40.
"It's a great feeling. We were really happy to be able to close the game," senior center Hugh Reilly said. "That's something we really put an emphasis on and coach put an emphasis on. We've got to finish games. We've got to be able to take control of things like that in the fourth quarter."
The offensive line, anchored by Reilly and featuring three other returning starters, took control from the start, paving the way for a season-high 441 yards of total offense. The line has struggled with consistency and had not been the strength Gailey expected it to be through the first six games.
But Saturday was everything the Yellow Jackets had hoped for. Behind the line, Daniels set career highs in attempts and yards. Senior wide receiver Jonathan Smith continued his standout season with seven catches for a career-high 194 yards. Georgia Tech controlled the ball for 20:27 in the second half.
"It all starts with the front five," said quarterback Reggie Ball, who was 12 of 24 for 225 yards and two touchdowns. "It was really obvious that we won the battle up front."
The Demon Deacons (3-3, 1-2) knew it, too.
"They came out and they beat on us," Wake Forest middle linebacker Brad White said.
It started quickly. Georgia Tech drove 80 yards on its first drive, most of the damage coming on a 55-yard reception by Smith, and seized a quick 7-0 lead. The game would stay that way for the rest of the first half, as neither team gained much traction. Aside from Smith, who had four catches and 103 yards in the first half, Georgia Tech safety James Butler starred. Butler forced two fumbles, intercepted an errant Cory Randolph pass and blocked a last-second field goal to preserve the first-half lead.
Gailey challenged his team to produce 17 second-half points, and the Yellow Jackets got three on their first possession of the second half, driving from their own 3 for a 44-yard Dan Burnett field goal. Wake Forest responded. Behind tailback Chris Barclay - one of the day's few bright spots - the Deacons drove 71 yards to cut the deficit to 10-7. Barclay rushed for 124 yards, including the final 4 of the drive.
"We had all the momentum," Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe said.
Georgia Tech had something better - the Ball-to-Smith connection that grows more potent every week. After two Ball timeouts, the young quarterback hit Smith for a 65-yard catch and run to give the Yellow Jackets some breathing room. Smith caught the ball in traffic around the Deacons 40 and - aided by downfield blocks by receivers Levon Thomas and Nate Curry - turned it into a touchdown.
"That's a senior stepping up for you, making big plays like he's supposed to," Ball said of his leading receiver.
Any momentum the Deacons had was gone. Any chance they had to win was soon spoiled as well. And suddenly the Yellow Jackets have a dangerous offense, a steady defense and a very good chance of playing late in December.
"We know we can do these things. We do them in practices every day and we had flashes in some of the earlier games," Reilly said. "But think this was a good time for us to put it all together."
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