Georgia Tech came into Saturday's home game against Wake Forest needing a win to become bowl eligible, a substantial win to settle its grumblier fans, and a third straight win for momentum going into a brutal final three games.
Done, done (mostly; some people live to grumble) and done.
The Yellow Jackets' offensive stars all turned out for the 30-17 near-romp. Reggie Ball threw for two touchdowns and ran for another; Calvin Johnson caught a touchdown and two sideline bombs to set up scores, and P. J. Daniels rushed for 109 yards, including a 51-yard ramble to set up Johnson's touchdown catch.
Even kicker Travis Bell, a freshman All-American last year who had missed six of his last seven attempts, got into the act. Bell connected from 41, 44 and 47 yards, and any of his boots would have been good from 50.
Ball was sacked once, only his sixth all year, and had no interceptions. He completed only 12 of 27 passes for 200 yards, but Tech coach Chan Gailey said Ball's completion percentage doesn't reflect his importance to Tech's 6-2 (4-2 ACC) record.
"He's taking his team to victory," Gailey said. "That's the mark of a good quarterback. It's not how fast you are, how big you are, or how hard you throw it, it's if you lead your team to victory and do what it takes to win."
The Tech defense kept the game from being close, holding the Demon Deacons' vaunted running game to 100 yards. ACC-leading tailback Chris Barclay went over 1,000 yards for the year, but not the way he wanted. Tech stuffed Barclay for only 24 yards on 15 carries.
Tech's early offensive success helped the defense stay ahead of Wake all game, Gailey said. Forced to throw to catch up, Wake (4-6, 3-4) went away from its strength.
"I give a lot of credit to (defensive coordinator Jon) Tenuta and his staff and the players for going out and stopping the running game," Gailey said. "We made them throw to try to win the game."
The Jackets acted like they'd been dominating good teams all year in the first quarter, marching easily for a touchdown. Even when they were stopped, they looked good, as punter Ben Arndt corked a 50-yarder to answer Wake's über-punter Ryan Plackemeier, and pooched another at the 4.
A word about Plackemeier, who should be the subject of an NCAA investigation into his artificially enhanced -- likely bionic -- leg. Plackemeier averaged 56.5 yards on 5 kicks, including a 65-yarder that Tech return man Pat Clark nearly dropped because the ball came down from the upper atmosphere with frost on it.
None of the other Deacs had that kind of game. Tech's Johnson torched Wake corner cornerback Alphonso Smith, who unenviably was in single coverage most of the day, for receptions of 43 and 45 yards, as well as the 3-yard touchdown.
Wake coach Jim Grobe gave Smith credit for mostly shutting Johnson down after the first half (after the damage was done, but let's let that go). "(Johnson is) just a big guy," Grobe said. "It's not rocket science. You've got a guy who's taller and can out-jump everybody, and you throw the ball up to him."
Wake quarterback Cory Randolph completed 19 of 33 passes, but for only 160 yards. Tech safety Chris Reis picked off a Randolph pass as Wake was driving to cut into a 14-3 lead, and ran it back into field goal range to put the Jackets up two scores.
Senior defensive end Eric Henderson, in his second game after missing four with a sprained ankle, sacked Randolph and caused a fumble that Tech recovered.
Wake's biggest offensive success came on counters and reverses that took advantage of Tech's overpursuing defense. Receiver Nate Morton scored Wake's first touchdown on a 24-yard end around. Morton finished with two rushes for 39 yards and six receptions for 59 more.
Tech closed out the fourth quarter by running the ball, punting, and slapping the Wake offense around. With the win, they became one of eight schools in the country to be bowl-eligible for nine straight years.
Life was sweet on the Flats for three blissfully television-timeout-free hours Saturday. Gailey said he'd give his players 24 hours to enjoy it, and then start preparing for a murderous final three weeks.
At 5-3 Virginia (where Tech hasn't won since 1990), at Miami (one hopes Tech's players didn't watch the Miami-Virginia Tech game), and back home to play the formidable Georgia Bulldogs (who -- Tech fans swear -- cheat). Now there's a to-do list.