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ACC title turns Johnsons frown upside down
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Forsyth County News
He smiled. I saw it. You did, too.

Right there on the football field, of all places. In front of a national television audience. For all to see.

Now we know. All it takes to make Paul Johnson smile on a football field is winning a conference championship.

In fact, the normally taciturn Johnson turned downright loquacious after Tech’s stirring 39-34 victory over Clemson. And why not? If this game didn’t get your blood rushing, you don’t have a pulse.

“Wow, what a game!” Johnson gushed at the official ACC postgame press conference. “I don’t think anybody would leave their seat. It was about as exciting an offensive game as you could find.

“My hat’s off to Clemson. I thought they came in and played a great game and had a good plan. And C.J. Spiller was magnificent. He lived up to all the hype.

“I couldn’t be prouder of our football team. We’ve overcome a lot of adversity, a lot of injuries, and we took that drive down and got it in the end zone, and, finally, a stop when we needed it there.”

Whew! By Johnson’s standards, that was an inaugural address. But he had every right. Whew! What a game!

Say what you will about the quality of play in the ACC. About how both Clemson and Tech lost to also-ran SEC rivals last week. About how Tech managed to be the only conference school to achieve even a modicum of respect this season.

But say this as well: the ACC put on one fantastic championship game.

For the second week in a row, Tech embroiled itself in a puntless contest. Excluding two interceptions tossed by Clemson’s Kyle Parker, each team’s offense was stopped by the opposing defense exactly once. Both occasions arose late in the fourth quarter, presumably after the offenses were spent from three hours of motoring up and down the field.

Clemson’s possessions: touchdown, missed field goal, interception, touchdown, touchdown, interception, touchdown, touchdown, stop.

Tech’s possessions: field goal, touchdown, field goal, field goal, touchdown, touchdown, field goal, stop, touchdown.

If that’s not enough action to keep you spellbound, maybe you need to follow Willie Martinez to his next stop.

Included along the way was Tech’s Scott Blair kicking a career-best 48-yard field goal, and following up an hour later with a 49-yarder. Observed Johnson: “He didn’t know how to act. I wasn’t yelling at him!”

Tech won despite the best player on the field being clad in Clemson orange. If there’s a worthier candidate for the Heisman than C.J. Spiller, I haven’t seen him play. All he did was run the ball 20 times for 233 yards and score four touchdowns, two of which went for 36 and 41 yards.

And he did it all on a turf toe that required a shot early in the game.

“C.J. was making plays,” said Tech’s Jonathan Dwyer after the game. “He went out there and played a phenomenal game.” Added Johnson, “C.J. played a great game. He’s a tremendous player, and I wish him the best. In the NFL.”

All of which makes you wonder: why didn’t he get the ball on Clemson’s final possession? They had 80 seconds to go 65 yards. Seems to me the odds of Spiller breaking another run were better than the odds of Parker passing down the field.

Clemson’s final opportunity arose only after Tech’s final, masterful drive: a 13-play, 86-yard, five minute foray meant to run out the clock. Alas, Dwyer turned the left corner, and ran in from 15 yards out, putting Tech ahead once and for all.

“We were playing at the end to get [Blair] in front of the goal post, and kick a field goal at the end,” confirmed Johnson. “But, you can’t tell a guy not to score.”

Dwyer, frustrated by Georgia a week ago, had to fight for most of his yards against Clemson. Fight he did. His final carry put him at 110 yards for the game.

“For the most part, on the option, they were taking Jon,” Johnson explained. “We hit a few call gives, zone gives to him, and he made some plays. They were getting a lot of penetration. We were having a hard time trying to trap him to get him the ball.

“There at the end, we made a few little adjustments. We blocked a couple guys down, and he bounced it out there and made a guy miss. I was yelling for him to get tackled on the one, but he didn’t.”

No matter. Tech’s defense got that crucial stop, secured the win, and now Johnson becomes the first Tech coach since Bobby Dodd to lead the Jackets into a major bowl game.

“We’re excited about having the opportunity to go to Miami and represent the ACC in the Orange Bowl,” Johnson declared.

He was smiling when he said it.