An unexpected ending: Tech-Wake big surprise

The No. 23 Yellow Jackets and the 16th-ranked Demon Deacons exceeded expectations and earned spots in the ACC title game today at Alltel Stadium.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - When the Atlantic Coast Conference expanded to 12 teams and added a lucrative championship game, officials figured either Florida State, Miami or Virginia Tech would be there every year and bring along national title implications.

They never envisioned this.

Georgia Tech? Maybe.

Wake Forest? Not a chance.

But the No. 23 Yellow Jackets and the 16th-ranked Demon Deacons exceeded expectations and earned spots in the ACC title game today at Alltel Stadium. They also set up a less-than-intriguing matchup.

Neither team has national championship hopes. Neither does much for television ratings. And as of yesterday afternoon, about 12,000 tickets remained, leaving it far from a sellout.

But don't expect Georgia Tech or Wake Forest to apologize. They prefer to consider this a well-deserved opportunity to win a championship and secure a spot in the Orange Bowl.

"This is to hang that banner in your stadium for eternity," Tech coach Chan Gailey said. "They're going to remodel the stadium, they're going to remodel the campus, but that banner will still be hanging there, and you'll have that ring forever."

The Yellow Jackets (9-3) already have two conference banners, winning titles in 1990 and '98. The Demon Deacons (10-2) have one league crown, in 1970.

Somebody will add one more today - and that one alone will be one more than Miami has in three years in the league.

"When we added Virginia Tech, Miami and Boston College, people thought that was going to be a negative for Wake Forest because the league would be too tough," Wake coach Jim Grobe said. "But I always felt that in reality, by dividing the league into two divisions and having a championship game, it gave us a little better chance to make it to that game."

But few outsiders gave Wake Forest much of a shot.

When the league held its annual preseason kickoff in nearby Ponte Vedra Beach in July, Georgia Tech was picked to finish a distant third in the Coastal Division behind Miami and Virginia Tech, while Wake Forest was predicted to finish last in the Atlantic Division.

But the Demon Deacons stunned most everyone with consecutive wins against Boston College and Florida State - a 30-0 shocker in Tallahassee that prompted Seminoles offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden to resign.

Wake Forest lost badly to Virginia Tech the following week but rebounded by beating Maryland last Saturday to clinch the division.

"We've had a pretty remarkable season," Grobe said. "We're really a football team without a lot of individual stars, but we've found a way to win some games. We're not the most talented group, but we play pretty well as a team."

Georgia Tech punched its ticket to Jacksonville three weeks ago with a 7-0 win at North Carolina.

"It's big," Tech receiver Calvin Johnson said. "You never know when you'll be in this situation again. You can't say that you'll be in the ACC championship again next year or ever again. You have to take advantage of it now."


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