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Ga. Tech stings Mississippi State in Orange Bowl

Thomas, Days combine for 6 rushing touchdowns in 49-34 win

Georgia Tech players celebrate after defeating Mississippi State in the Orange Bowl on New Year's Eve.
Georgia Tech players celebrate after defeating Mississippi State in the Orange Bowl on New Year's Eve. (Peter Burke/Local10.com)

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – If Georgia Tech were a vaudeville act, quarterback Justin Thomas and running back Synjyn Days would be the stars. They certainly were Wednesday night in the Orange Bowl.

Thomas and Days combined for six rushing touchdowns as the 10th-ranked Yellow Jackets (11-3) upended No. 8 Mississippi State (10-3) in a 49-34 victory at Sun Life Stadium that wasn't as close as the final score indicated.

Georgia Tech got off to a fast start, going 36 yards in four plays on its first possession that culminated with a 3-yard touchdown run by Days. The scoring drive came after Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott was intercepted by cornerback Chris Milton on the first possession of the game.

The Yellow Jackets took a 14-0 lead after Thomas connected with senior receiver Darren Waller on a 41-yard touchdown late in the first quarter.

Mississippi State scored 13 unanswered points in the second quarter on a pair of field goals by kicker Evan Sobiesk and a 5-yard scamper into the end zone by Prescott to pull within one, but Thomas directed the Yellow Jackets on a 12-play, 82-yard scoring drive that ended with his 13-yard touchdown run with 29 seconds remaining before halftime.

It seemed Georgia Tech would head into the locker room with an eight-point lead at the half, but Prescott showed why he was once considered a Heisman Trophy contender when he tossed a "Hail Mary" pass into a crowded corner of the end zone that appeared to bounce off a defender before being caught by sophomore receiver Fred Ross for a 42-yard touchdown strike.

"I was just doing my job running down the field bearing, he tipped it and, like I said, I was in the right spot at the right time," Ross said.

The fluke score trimmed Georgia Tech's halftime lead to 21-20.

Momentum shifted in Georgia Tech's favor after the break. The Yellow Jackets went 75 yards in two plays on the first possession of the second half as Days escaped several defenders and raced along the sideline 69 yards for a touchdown.

Thomas scored again on a 32-yard touchdown run with 7:58 in the third quarter to give Georgia Tech a 35-20 lead. Georgia Tech then recovered a fumble that gave the Yellow Jackets the ball at the 48-yard line. That set up Thomas for his third rushing touchdown -- this one from 15 yards out.

Days scored his third touchdown of the night on a 4-yard run in the fourth quarter. The redshirt senior rushed for 171 yards in his final collegiate game.

Prescott completed a 7-yard touchdown pass to sophomore receiver De'Runnya Wilson on the first play of the fourth quarter that cut Georgia Tech's lead to 42-27. He found Wilson again for a 12-yard score in the final minutes of the game.

It was a disappointing finish for Mississippi State, which had risen all the way to No. 1 earlier in the season. The Bulldogs ended the season losing three of their final four games.

"I couldn't be more proud of our guys," Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said. "I couldn't be more proud of the senior class (and) what they've established here for us. Obviously, it's very disappointing to end the season on a loss, but you end the season on a loss to a very good Georgia Tech team, and we've got a lot to build on."

Georgia Tech's decisive victory versus a Southeastern Conference opponent also went a long way in earning the Atlantic Coast Conference some respect. Fans in the Georgia Tech section began chanting "SEC" in the waning minutes, and players did the same during the trophy presentation after the game.

"It's great," Thomas said. "We're 2-0 against the SEC this year. It just proves that we can play with anybody we want to."

Thomas was named the game's most valuable player. The redshirt sophomore finished with 121 yards on the ground for three scores. He also passed for 125 yards and a touchdown. His only miscue was an errant throw picked off by linebacker Beniquez Brown at the Mississippi State 25-yard line.

"It's a great feeling," Thomas said of earning MVP honors. "I couldn't have done it without these guys. A lot of these guys are seniors out here and we ended their careers off right."

The Yellow Jackets proved effective with their triple-option threat. They rushed for 452 yards, outgaining the Bulldogs by 300 yards.

"We had three weeks to prepare for the triple-option stuff," Mississippi State linebacker Bernardrick McKinney said. "I guess they just made bigger plays than we did."

Prescott threw for a career-high 453 yards and three touchdowns, but the Bulldogs failed to score enough points to keep pace with Georgia Tech's frenzied offense.

Georgia Tech's win was its first Orange Bowl victory since 1951.

An announced crowd of 58,211 was on hand to witness just the second Orange Bowl played on New Year's Eve in the 81-year history of the game. Tickets in the upper end zone levels of the 75,540-seat stadium were selling for as cheap as $3.45 on StubHub a few hours before kickoff.

Attendance may have been hurt by the fact that the game was being played on New Year's Eve amid all the celebrations in bustling South Florida, but that isn't likely to be the case next season when the Orange Bowl plays host to a semifinal game in the new College Football Playoff. That game will also be played on New Year's Eve.

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