CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Coach Paul Johnson felt his Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets needed to play a flawless game to beat defending national champion Florida State.
The Yellow Jackets came fairly close.
Georgia Tech, the nation's third-leading rushing team, stuck to its bread and butter and finished with 331 yards on the ground and got three touchdowns from Synjyn Days. But it wasn't enough for the upset.
Florida State made its case to play for a second straight national title, finishing the season unbeaten as Jameis Winston threw for 309 yards and three touchdowns, and the second-ranked Seminoles held off No. 12 Georgia Tech 37-35 Saturday night to win their third consecutive ACC championship.
"Florida State is a very talented team and it was the kind of game where you couldn't make a mistake," Johnson said.
The Yellow Jackets didn't force any turnovers and allowed Florida State to score on seven straight possessions after forcing a three-and-out to open the game.
"We came into the game confident, and definitely after that first drive when we forced a punt we felt like, 'OK, we can establish something here,'" said Georgia Tech cornerback D.J. White. "But games can take a life of their own sometimes. We just didn't make as many plays as they did."
In Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher's mind, there is no doubt that Florida State belongs in the College Football Playoff.
"There ain't no decision to be made — the decision just got made," Fisher said during a postgame celebration while Seminoles fans roared in approval.
The Seminoles (13-0, 9-0 ACC, No. 4 CFP) will find out Sunday if they earned a berth in the first playoff. All four of the top-ranked teams in the selection committee's playoff rankings were victorious over the weekend.
Winston said he'd love a chance to play top-ranked Alabama, but ultimately just wants a chance to play for another title.
"We can't control what other people think," Winston said.
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.
"Last year's team was dominating, this year's team is more amazing," Fisher said. "It is really is. ... They compete together. They have had some struggles together and I think that's what makes them so tight."
Days ran for 67 yards, Justin Thomas ran for 104 yards and 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. Florida State scored on its final seven possessions before running out the clock to end the game.
"Sometimes you just have to calm down and get back in rhythm and get the ball to the guy like Dalvin Cook and let him do his thing," Winston said.
The turning point came with 7:47 left in the game when 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.
"We had our chances," Johnson said.
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 make the game close with 1:47 left. The Yellow Jackets attempted an onside kick, but Florida State recovered and ran out the clock.
The Yellow Jackets opened the game with 26 straight running plays and scored on touchdown drives of 71, 75 and 75 yards. But the game started to turn 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 9-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 and ACC title 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.
The potential ramifications for Winston range from a reprimand to expulsion from school. He said he hopes to be able to play moving forward.
"I know that I did nothing wrong," Winston said.