By PAUL NEWBERRY, AP Sports Writer
ATLANTA (AP) — After two excruciating losses, Georgia Tech finally showed a finishing punch.
Quarterback TaQuon Marshall ran for two long touchdowns, including a 70-yarder with 1:57 remaining that clinched a 38-24 victory over Wake Forest on Saturday night.
The Yellow Jackets rallied from an 11-point deficit in the first half, dominating the final two quarters to put a bit of a salve on a pair of one-point losses to Tennessee and Miami . In both defeats, Georgia Tech squandered double-digit leads in the second half, becoming the first Atlantic Coast Conference team since 2006 to lose two games in a season by the narrowest of margins.
“You’re not always going to be in the lead,” said Marshall, who finished with 163 yards on 23 carries, also scoring on a 49-yard run. “It’s good to go through some adversity to see how guys react.”
The Yellow Jackets (4-2, 3-1) ran their triple-option offense to perfection, piling up 427 yards rushing against a team that had an off week to prepare. KirVonte Benson bounced back from a hamstring injury to run for 136 yards and a touchdown. Qua Searcy broke loose for a 42-yard scoring run against the Demon Deacons (4-3, 1-3), who lost their third straight.
Marshall turned in his fourth 100-yard game of the season, his first as Georgia Tech’s starting quarterback.
“The guys opened up some holes for me,” he said. “I was just trying to make the play.”
Benson’s 11-yard TD gave the Yellow Jackets a 31-24 lead with 11:55 remaining. The extra point was blocked, leaving the door open for Wake Forest to force overtime.
The Demon Deacons drove to the Georgia Tech 24, where they faced fourth-and-1. Cade Carney was stuffed for no gain and Marshall finished off the Demon Deacons three plays later.
John Wolford returned to the lineup after missing Wake Forest’s previous game with a shoulder injury. He completed 17 of 30 pass for 252 yards, including a pair of touchdowns, and scored his team’s other TD on a 1-yard run.
Duke Ejiofor had a huge game on defense, sacking Marshall three times.
It wasn’t enough, even after the Demon Deacons built a 21-10 lead.
“We just didn’t close,” Wolford said. “I’m sick right now.”
The Yellow Jackets caught a huge break just before halftime when Jaboree Williams dragged down Marshall after he was already out of bounds. The personal foul penalty pushed Georgia Tech into field goal range, and they converted with Brenton King’s 42-yard field goal as the half expired.
That momentum carried into the second half. Wake Forest got the ball first, but a penalty and a botched snap forced the Demon Deacons to punt from deep in their own territory.
Taking possession at the Wake 49, Marshall needed just one play to reach the end zone. With the defense leaning toward the left, the quarterback ran to his right, got a good block from left tackle Jahaziel Lee that allowed him to scoot around the edge, and shook off a would-be tackler at the 10 for his first TD.
Georgia Tech failed to convert a tying 2-point attempt, but went ahead for good on Searcy’s TD late in the third quarter.
“We weren’t disciplined,” Wake Forest safety Jessie Bates III said. “When you play against good teams, you have to be disciplined. That cost us the game.”
Georgia Tech receiver Ricky Jeune caught three passes for 44 yards and also ran for 30 yards on a reverse.
His best work came as a blocker, however. On both of Marshall’s long runs, Jeune helped clear a path downfield.
“When I hear the crowd yelling and stuff, I’m like, ‘OK, the kid’s behind me. I’ve got to put some pressure on the cornerback,'” Jeune said with a smile.
Wake Forest’s faint hopes in the ACC race essentially ended with another conference defeat. The Demon Deacons have played respectably in their last three games but showed they aren’t ready to compete with the league’s top teams.
Georgia Tech displayed plenty of resilience by bouncing back from a 25-24 setback at Miami and a lackluster first half. The defense really came through in the second half, stopping the Demon Deacons three times on fourth down.
Wake Forest: Wraps up a brutal stretch of five straight games against 2016 bowl teams, hosting Louisville (5-3, 2-3) and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson next Saturday.
Georgia Tech: Travels to Clemson to take on the No. 7 Tigers (6-1, 4-1), who were off this week. The Yellow Jackets have lost four straight at Death Valley, their last victory coming in 2008.