Virginia Tech headed to Orange Bowl as Tyrod Taylor burns Florida State

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It took just five days for Virginia Tech to go from national title contender to mystifying also-ran.

Then the Hokies began to turn their season around. They've been getting better ever since.

Slowly and quietly, they have climbed back with 11 straight victories, culminating in Tyrod Taylor's four-touchdown performance Saturday night as Virginia Tech (No. 15 BCS, No. 12 AP) beat Florida State (No. 21 BCS, No. 20 AP) 44-33 for its third Atlantic Coast Conference title in four years.

Nearly forgotten after falling to Boise State and FCS school James Madison, a confident and determined Virginia Tech is headed to the Orange Bowl on Jan. 3.

"Those two losses we had at the beginning of the year makes these 11 wins and an ACC championship seem even greater," said coach Frank Beamer, who won his 240th game.

Completing this turnaround sure helps when you have an elusive QB who draws comparisons to Michael Vick.

Taylor threw for 263 yards and three touchdowns and his dizzying 5-yard scramble for a TD early in the fourth quarter put it away for the Hokies (11-2) in front of thousands of fans wearing orange ponchos fans on a dreary and chilly night.

"He gives you a chance to win every Saturday," Beamer said. "We were fortunate to have Michael Vick at Virginia Tech. We were fortunate to have Tyrod Taylor. You get that feeling on the sideline like the next play could be a big play."

Selected the game's MVP, Taylor's top target was Danny Coale, who caught six passes for a career-best 143 yards and a score while exposing Florida State's shaky secondary.

Ty Jones rushed for three touchdowns for Florida State (9-4), while EJ Manuel threw two interceptions, one returned for a touchdown, filling in for injured starter Christian Ponder.

The Seminoles will have to settle for the Chick-fil-A Bowl on Dec. 31.

"In the future, we'll learn from it," Manuel said. "Just remember how to get back in this position and win."

Up 21-17 at halftime, Virginia Tech took control with touchdown drives on its first two series of the second half as it converted 13 of its first 15 third downs.

Taylor was quick to spot Coale when Florida State lost him in coverage at the start of the third quarter. With nobody near him, Coale hauled in a 45-yard touchdown pass.

Taylor started the second drive with his one of his signature scrambles to avoid a sack and run 12 yards on a play he described by saying "my feet took over."

The drive ended when he alertly picked up a safety blitz and lofted a pass to an uncovered David Wilson for a 21-yard catch-and-run TD.

It was Taylor's 23rd TD pass of the season, one better than Maurice DeShazo's old school record.

"He was awesome," Coale said. "He came here as a great athlete and you know he's leaving here as a great quarterback. He's a tremendous runner and a tremendous passer and I think everybody here saw that tonight."

Taylor's scramble for a score with 11:29 left made it 41-24. Florida State returned the botched point-after for 2 points but it didn't matter.

It was a sour night for Florida State, which had visions of returning to the top of the league.

The Seminoles won or shared the conference crown nine straight years after joining the league in 1992. But its last ACC title was in 2005, when it upset Virginia Tech in the first championship game.

The recent woes helped lead to Bobby Bowden's departure and Jimbo Fisher's promotion before this season.

But FSU wasn't at full strength, although Manuel threw for 288 yards and a TD.

Fisher decided to rest Ponder, who had his troublesome right elbow looked at in the middle of the week.

"They drained some fluid off his elbow and it wasn't fluid, it was blood," Fisher said. "When you start draining blood you've got to be careful. I wasn't going to jeopardize his future for one football game. It just needed rest. He was still sore."

Manuel fell victim to a great play on his second series when Bruce Taylor made a diving tip of Manuel's short pass and the ball landed in the hands of teammate Jeron Gouveia-Winslow. He waltzed 24 yards for his first career touchdown and a 7-3 Virginia Tech lead.

Jones had TD runs of 2 and 6 yards as Florida State got within 21-17 at halftime before Florida State faded, much to the delight of the partisan crowd.

After a five-year stay in Florida that produced mostly disappointing crowds in Jacksonville and Tampa, the ACC moved the game to a more central location and Charlotte organizers sold about 29,000 tickets before the matchup was determined.

Trouble is, this city can be cold this time of year.

It was 36 degrees at kickoff and there was occasional drizzle. Still, 72,379 tickets were sold and the turnstile count was more than 60,000 despite the weather.

It didn't stop Hokies players from tossing oranges to their adoring fans after Beamer proudly hoisted the ACC trophy.

"I'm just proud of the way we turned things around from an 0-2 start," Taylor said. "As a senior, it feels good to go out with a win like this."