A year ago, Pat Hill was sitting at home during bowl season wondering if his Fresno State program could be revitalized.
The fallout of a 4-8 season meant re-establishing the Bulldogs' identity. The task was placed before seniors like Tyler Clutts and Clifton Smith to make sure winning was again the norm in California's Central Valley.
"It was not an easy task," Hill said.
The Bulldogs responded, and capped their rebound season by adding Georgia Tech -- again -- to their list of conquests from BCS conferences.
Smith rushed for 152 yards and two touchdowns, Tom Brandstater threw for a score and ran for another and the Bulldogs beat Georgia Tech 40-28 in the Roady's Humanitarian Bowl on Monday.
Fresno State finished the season 9-4, winning eight of its final 10 and thinking big about 2008, when a talented team will return with aspirations of following Western Athletic Conference brethren Boise State and Hawaii into a BCS bowl game.
"We let it get away there one year and it just can't happen," Hill said. "We've got too much riding today in college football."
It's Fresno State's second bowl win over Georgia Tech, after beating the Yellow Jackets 30-21 in the 2002 Silicon Valley Football Classic, and it made the Bulldogs 3-0 against the ACC in bowls. Fresno State has won four of its last five bowl games, all four wins coming against teams from the six conferences with automatic bids to the Bowl Championship Series.
While Fresno State can use its surprising offensive eruption as a building block for next year, Georgia Tech will be starting from scratch.
Interim coach Jon Tenuta, who took over when Chan Gailey was fired after six seasons, was added to the list of winless stopgap coaches this postseason, joining DeWayne Walker (UCLA), Gary Darnell (Texas A&M) and Chris Thurmond (Houston).
While new coach Paul Johnson watched from the press box as a fan, the Yellow Jackets defense, orchestrated by Tenuta, was exposed after being one of the better units in the ACC.
Fresno State scored 27 consecutive points after Tech jumped ahead 7-0, and rolled up 571 yards of total offense, the most allowed by the Yellow Jackets this season. Georgia Tech, which led the country in sacks with 47, never got to Brandstater.
"It's tough, it really is," Tenuta said. "We just didn't play well. We started out pretty good, but we didn't tackle well and gave up too many big plays."
Brandstater was Tech's biggest problem early on, before Smith took over with 135 yards rushing in the second half and both of his TDs. Brandstater even added a 24-yard TD run in the third quarter, behind an escort from tight end Bear Pascoe.
But it was his first half that was most impressive, when Brandstater directed scoring drives of 82, 90 and 91 yards, and the Bulldogs scored 17 points in the second quarter, including 10 in the final 2 minutes.
Brandstater, who finished 23 of 30 passing, threw a 3-yard TD pass to Drew Lubinsky with 1:54 left in the half, the first catch of the junior's college career.
Georgia Tech drove to the Fresno 47, but on fourth down with 23 seconds left, quarterback Taylor Bennett was sacked. Brandstater then completed three straight passes and Clint Stitser kicked a 39-yard field goal, his second of the half, to give the Bulldogs a 20-7 lead.
Smith then started the second half with a 43-yard TD run to give Fresno State a 27-7 lead.
"It took some physical runs and efficient passing to move down the field," Brandstater said. "They contested every play, but our guys [were] digging deep and pushing into them. Nothing was easy about that game."
Tenuta's team did show some fight after falling behind.
Using young, skill-position backups trying to make an impression on Johnson, the Yellow Jackets got within 34-28 early in the fourth quarter. Backup running back Jonathan Dwyer, taking over for a mostly ineffective Tashard Choice in the third quarter because of an injury, rushed for 62 yards and had touchdown runs of 36 and 2 yards.
"The main thing with all of us is that if we're going to go out, we're going to go out with a fight," Dwyer said.
Backup quarterback Calvin Booker, in for injured starter Taylor Bennett, threw a towering jump ball that D.J. Donley wrestled from Fresno State defensive backs Moses Harris and Damion Owens, pulling the Yellow Jackets within six with 13:06 left.
Brandstater tried to answer, leading the Bulldogs inside the Tech 10. But wide receiver Marlon Moore, who scored on a 6-yard run in the first half, fumbled on a hit by safety Joe Gaston. After Darryl Richard recovered, the Bulldogs' defense held and Smith capped his career-best day with a 32-yard sprint with 1:50 remaining.
"It was a great way for me to go out," Smith said. "I've had my ups and downs at Fresno State, but the good always outweighed the bad and this is just a sweet ending for me."