CHARLOTTE, N.C. - If veteran quarterbacks are Florida State's weakness than Virginia Tech's Tyrod Taylor is their kryptonite.
With Florida State missing its own starting quarterback Christian Ponder, Taylor turned the ACC title game into his own personal showcase. The senior QB made a series of dazzling plays on his way to throwing three touchdown passes and running for another to lead Virginia Tech to a 44-33 win over Florida State on a chilly Saturday night at Bank of America Stadium in front of a near capacity crowd of 72,739.
"He was amazing," said FSU receiver Bert Reed of Taylor, who was the easy choice for the game's MVP. "He reminded me a lot of myself in high school. He just ran around and knew where guys were and where they were supposed to be. He controlled the game."
The Seminoles (9-4), who were looking to win the ACC and reach a BCS game for the first time in five years, will now play in the Chick-fil-A Bowl on New Year's Eve where they will likely face Mississippi State or South Carolina. Their opponent will officially be announced on Sunday night.
The Hokies (11-2), which won their 11th straight game, secured the automatic bid to the Orange Bowl that goes to the game winner.
The 'Noles only trailed 21-17 at the half, but Taylor fired touchdown passes of 21 and 45 yards in the third quarter to put the Hokies up 35-17.
Ty Jones' third touchdown run of the night cut that advantage to 35-24 with 1:24 left in the third quarter. But, the Hokies answered by going 82 yards on 11 plays on the ensuing drive and capping the march with a 5-yard touchdown run from Taylor who made three defenders miss before walking into the end zone on what was the play of the game.
"We were fortunate to have had Michael Vick at Virginia Tech," Hokies coach Frank Beamer said. "We're fortunate to have Tyrod Taylor. Over there on the sideline, you get the feeling that the next play could be a big play."
Following Taylor's score, the extra point was blocked and Nigel Bradham returned the ball 100 yards for a two-point conversion that left the Hokies up 41-26. But, E.J. Manuel, who started in place of an injured Ponder, threw his second interception on the next drive.
Virginia turned that turnover into a 43-yard field goal from Chris Hazley to put the game out of reach at 44-26 with 6:58 left.
"They were hot and we didn't slow them down in the second half," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. "They deserved to win the game."
Taylor directed an offense that had converted a remarkable 13 of 15 third downs midway through the fourth quarter. At point, Virginia Tech converted 10 in a row. Several of those came as a result of Taylor buying time by escaping out of the pocket and firing passes to wide-open receivers.
"He was very poised regardless if he got sacked or not," said FSU defensive tackle Jacobbi McDaniel, who was part of a defense that sacked Taylor three times. "We couldn't get into his head and he just kept pushing."
All four of FSU's losses have now come against experienced quarterbacks who racked up huge stats, including Oklahoma's Landry Jones (380 passing yards, 4 Tds), NC State's Russell Wilson (ran for three touchdowns, passed for one) and UNC's T.J. Yates (439 passing yards, 3 Tds).
Ponder missed his second game due to an elbow injury that has bothered him for much of the year. Ponder wasn't listed on Thursday's injury report, but after blood was drained from his elbow late in the week, Fisher chose to keep him on the sidelines.
"At the end of week he was still banged up," Fisher said. "They drained fluid off his elbow and it wasn't fluid, it was blood. When you start draining blood you got to be careful. I wasn't going to jeopardize his future for one football game. It wasn't worth taking a chance on his future and career."
Manuel, who made the second start of the year and sixth of his career, threw for a career-high 288 yards but both of his interceptions proved costly. The first was tipped by Virginia Tech linebacker Bruce Taylor and returned by Jeron Gouveia-Winslow 24 yards for a score and put the Hokies up 7-3 in the first quarter.
FSU got the ball first and got a 32-yard field from Dustin Hopkins to take a 3-0 lead, which would be its only lead of the night.
FSU was not called for a single penalty of the first time this year. Virginia Tech was whislted for four.
The game was officially called a sell out although there were handfuls of empty rows throughout the stadium. Bad weather, including sleet and rain earlier in the day, may have kept some fans away.
FSU had three sacks and took back the national lead in sacks with a total of 46 on the year.
Both schools were allotted 10,000 tickets for the game and each sold out of their share.
Three seniors, linebacker Kendall Smith, backup safety Ochuko Jenije and Ponder, were FSU's game captains.