Laskey, Jackets gear up for big game against Florida State

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Even the casual sports fan anywhere in the state knows about Georgia Tech’s overtime win over Georgia last weekend in Athens.

For every current member of the Yellow Jackets it was the biggest game of their careers. But that sentiment will only last seven days, as Georgia Tech looks to take another giant step on the national stage this weekend.

Zach Laskey, a former standout at Starr’s Mill, scored the winning touchdown in Georgia Tech’s 30-24 overtime victory over Georgia.

“We came close last year, losing in double overtime, so it was great to get another chance and get the win this year,” Laskey said Tuesday in a phone interview after practice. Needless to say, he has spent even more time with the media than usual this week.

The Georgia game was the team’s fifth straight win and second in a row over a ranked opponent, after a 28-6 thrashing of Clemson in Atlanta two weeks earlier. They have moved up to eleventh in the national rankings.

Now 10-2, the Yellow Jackets square off this Saturday night in Charlotte against the undefeated Florida State Seminoles for the Atlantic Coast Conference championship, which will be televised nationally on ABC-TV.

While Florida State is riding a 28-game winning streak that includes a perfect season in 2013 and a national championship, the Seminoles have made it a habit lately of falling behind against teams of varying talent levels and pulling out wins late. That has a lot of fans and so-called experts giving Georgia Tech a good chance of ending that streak this weekend.

“We’re going out there to win,” Laskey said before quickly reminding everyone that such a task will not be easy.

“People don’t realize how hard it is to win in college football, and for them [Florida State] to close out as many games as they have is really impressive.”

Speaking Monday to various media members, Laskey referenced the momentum his team has amassed and what needs to be done to emerge victorious.

“We’ve got two straight wins over ranked opponents, so that’s given us a lot of confidence going into Saturday,” he said. “It’s going to be a great challenge. They’ve got a great run defense and we like to run the ball. We just see it as an opportunity. We’re going to try to control the clock and come out with a win.”

After seeing significant playing time as a true freshman in 2011, Laskey played in every Georgia Tech game the next two years before missing three games this season with an injury.

He carried the ball four times against Clemson in a game he might not have been physically ready to play, but as it was the last home game of his career he wasn’t about to sit out completely.

The excitement stemming from the Georgia win last Saturday afternoon carried over well into the evening, as there was quite a reception for the team upon its return to campus.

“It was great to get back and see the fans come out, cheer us on, congratulate us and ask for autographs,” said Laskey, who has also heard from plenty of his hometown folks of late. “I’ve had a lot of friends and my old coaches texting me and letting me know they’re pulling for us.”

Someone who has been watching him closely from here in Fayette County is Chad Phillips, the Starr’s Mill head football coach whose first season was Laskey’s senior year in which the Panthers won 14 straight games and finished as state runnerup.

As one might imagine, Phillips loves watching his former players line up on Saturday around the country. This year has seen alumni get significant playing time for North Carolina State, Miami and Ohio State, among other schools.

“I always root for our guys,” said Phillips, who is a Georgia graduate along with much of his family. “I bleed red and black, but I’ll root for Zach Laskey every time he touches the ball.”

Phillips, recalling how Laskey dislocated his collarbone in the 2010 state semifinals against Tucker but came back the next week to play in the Georgia Dome, is not surprised that the running back has bounced back from this year’s injury with a strong performance.

“I know he’ll be ready to play,” the coach said of the Florida State game.

Looking ahead, the analytical minds of the Georgia Tech student-athletes can’t help but think about the possibilities regarding the four teams that will eventually be in the national title playoff. Depending upon who wins and who loses this weekend, could the Yellow Jackets climb seven spots in the poll to make the Final Four?

“We’re definitely thinking about it,” said Laskey. “But we know we’ve got to win this week before we can do anything else.”