CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Florida State has made its case to play for a second straight national championship.
Jameis Winston threw for 309 yards and three touchdowns, and second-ranked Seminoles held off No. 12 Georgia Tech 37-35 Saturday night to win their third consecutive ACC championship.
The Seminoles (13-0, 9-0 ACC, No. 4 CFP) will find out Sunday if it’s enough to earn them a berth in the first ever College Football Playoff. All four of the top-ranked teams in the playoff rankings were victorious over the weekend.
Rashad Greene had seven catches for 123 yards and two scores and freshman Dalvin Cook had 220 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown in his first college start to help extend the Seminoles’ winning streak to 29 games.
Nick O’Leary added three catches for 97 yards and a touchdown.
Synjyn Days ran for 67 yards and three touchdowns and Justin Thomas ran for 104 yards threw for a score for Georgia Tech (10-3, 6-3, No. 11 CFP), which rushed for 331 yards.
Winston, who threw four interceptions in a win over Florida last Saturday, was near perfect against the Yellow Jackets.
He completed 21 of 30 passes, didn’t turn the ball over and seemed in total command throughout most of the game as Florida State scored on its final seven possessions.
The turning point came with 7:47 left in the game when Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson went for it on fourth and 5 near midfield.
The gamble failed when Thomas’ pass to Darren Waller was underthrown. Until then, the Yellow Jackets had run the ball 58 times and thrown it just five.
Florida State quickly took advantage, moving into field goal range for Roberto Aguayo. He converted his third field goal the second half from 28 yards to make it a two-possession game at 37-28 with 4:28 left.
The Seminoles sealed the game when LaMarcus Brutus intercepted Thomas on a fourth down heave with 3:22 remaining.
Georgia Tech scored on a 25-yard TD strike from Thomas to Darren Waller to cut the lead to 37-35 with 1:47 left. The Yellow Jackets attempted an onside kick, but Florida State recovered and ran out the clock.
As they’ve done most of the season, the Seminoles dug themselves an early hole.
Georgia Tech’s defense forced a three-and-out on the game’s first possession when Winston threw behind an open Jesus Wilson on third down while under pressure. The Yellow Jackets immediately seized the momentum, moving 71 yards in eight plays — all on the ground —with Days scoring on a 1-yard run to take a 7-0 lead.
But the Seminoles wouldn’t let this one get away from them.
Florida State scored on its next four possessions to take a 28-21 lead at halftime. Winston threw for 222 yards and three scores in the first half, including a 45-yarder to 46-yarder to O’Leary and a 44-yard strike to Greene, who became the ACC’s all-time leader in yards receiving. One score came on a blown coverage and the other when a Georgia Tech defensive back fell down.
Georgia Tech, which entered the game with nation’s third-best ground attack averaging 333.8 yards per game, had its bread and butter working early.
The Yellow Jackson opened the game with 26 straight running plays and scored on touchdown drives of 71, 75 and 75 yards.
But the game turned near the end of the second quarter when the Seminoles finally managed a defensive stop near midfield and forced a punt.
By then Winston was in top form.
He quickly moved the Seminoles 75 yards in less than two minutes, finding Greene in the left corner of the end zone for a -yard touchdown to give his team its first lead at 28-21 with 30 seconds left in the first half.
Winston has led the team to another undefeated regular season despite off-field distractions.
Last year’s Heisman Trophy winner spent two days this week at a university student code of conduct hearing that could determine his future at Florida State. The hearing was to determine whether Winston violated any or all of four sections of the student code of conduct. The hearing took place approximately two years after a female student said Winston sexually assaulted her in December 2012.
No decision was rendered and no definitive timetable was given on when the case will be resolved. The potential ramifications for Winston range from a reprimand to expulsion from school.