Charlotte, NC – James Wilder Jr. rushed for a pair of scores on Saturday night, and the Seminoles' second-ranked defense came up big in the closing minute, as No. 13 Florida State held off Georgia Tech, 21-15, to win the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship game at Bank of America Stadium.
Wilder carried the ball 10 times for 69 yards, while Devonta Freeman added 59 yards and a score on 13 carries to help Florida State (11-2, 7-1 ACC) earn its 13th ACC championship in school history and a berth in the Orange Bowl.
EJ Manuel finished 16-of-21 for 134 yards, but threw an interception late in the fourth quarter to give Georgia Tech one final shot at a go-ahead touchdown.
Yellow Jackets quarterback Tevin Washington then led his squad near midfield by converting a 4th-and-1 with a 5-yard surge, but Florida State defensive back Karlos Williams intercepted Washington's next pass and returned it 41 yards to the Georgia Tech 4 to seal the victory.
"I just broke on it and tried to tip it up and bat it down, but luckily it tipped up in the air and I just tried to make a sure catch and that's what happened," Williams said of his interception. "I'm just happy I got the call and we're ACC champs."
Washington finished just 4-of-14 for 76 yards, but added 20 rushing yards and a score on 10 carries for Georgia Tech (6-7, 5-3), which finished with the same record as Miami-Florida in the ACC Coastal, but earned a berth in the title game because of the Hurricanes' self-imposed sanctions.
"Everybody has told them they're not very good and they don't belong and I think they wanted to show that they did, that they did belong," Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said of his team. "They came out and played their tail off. They played with some effort and some heart."
David Sims rushed for 91 yards on 19 carries in the setback.
The Seminoles led 21-9 early in the fourth and seemed poised to extend their advantage, but Manuel was sacked and stripped at the Georgia Tech 30 by Emmanuel Dieke, who pounced on the loose ball to end the scoring threat.
The Yellow Jackets then converted two fourth downs on their ensuing possession, including a 4th-and-1 from the FSU 3 before Washington capped the 13-play, 70-yard trek with a 1-yard surge to bring Georgia Tech within 21-15 with 6:27 remaining.
Florida State then chewed up four minutes of clock and forced the Yellow Jackets to use the remainder of their timeouts before Manuel was picked off by Thomas to set up Georgia Tech's final drive.
The FSU defense, which came in ranked second in the nation in total defense (249.2 ypg), stifled the Yellow Jackets early.
After forcing a quick three-and-out on the game's opening possession, Florida State started its first touch from the Georgia Tech 43.
The Seminoles needed just six plays to find the end zone, as Freeman capped the scoring drive with a 3-yard TD surge to give Florida State a 7-0 edge just over four minutes into the game.
Georgia Tech was forced to punt on its next two possessions before Florida State added to its lead early in the second.
Starting from the FSU 36, Manuel and Wilder guided the Seminoles on a 7-play, 64-yard march, which Wilder capped with a 16-yard touchdown run to give the Seminoles a 14-0 lead just over a minute into the second stanza.
Georgia Tech's first completion of the night set up their first score, as Vad Lee hooked up with Darren Waller for 42 yards to the FSU 23 on the Yellow Jackets' first play of their ensuing possession.
The series stalled at the 10-yard line though, and Georgia Tech settled for a 27-yard field goal from Chris Tanner to pull within 14-3 with 9:25 left.
The Seminoles answered in a hurry, as Manuel led his squad on 9-play, 75-yard scoring march to make it a three-score game.
Aided by a personal foul penalty on the Yellow Jackets, Manuel and Wilder again moved the Seminoles down the field before Wilder capped the drive with his second score of the night, as he carried it in from a yard out to give Florida State a 21-3 edge with just under five minutes left in the half.
David Scully's 47-yard field goal just before halftime sent the Yellow Jackets into the locker room facing a 21-6 deficit.
Tanner's 36-yard field goal late in the third marked the only score of the stanza, as both teams failed to take advantage of turnovers early in the frame.
Florida State holds a 13-9-1 series advantage ... Manuel (3,101) crossed the 3,000-yard passing mark on the season ... Georgia Tech had won the last two meetings ... Georgia Tech and Florida State were each appearing in their third ACC Championship game ... The Coastal Division had won four of the seven title games since the inception of the game in 2005.