ATLANTA — Frank Beamer picked up his first retirement gift.
Pretty sweet one, too.
Virginia Tech rallied from an early 14-point deficit to give its retiring coach a 23-21 victory over Georgia Tech on Thursday night, moving the Hokies a step closer to becoming eligible for their 23rd straight bowl appearance.
"I can't tell you how much this win means," said Beamer, the winningest active coach in the NCAA's top division.
The 68-year-old coach announced his retirement last week with the once-mighty Hokies (5-5, 3-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) mired in another mediocre season.
But, if Virginia Tech wins one of its last two games, Beamer can at least go out with the nation's longest active bowl streak still intact.
"All our effort was toward Georgia Tech," Beamer said. "I told our coaches and players after we made the announcement that we were going to turn our attention toward Georgia Tech. That's the only thing we can control. You put your effort toward things that you can control. I thought we did."
After the Yellow Jackets fumbled it away on two straight possessions in the fourth quarter, Virginia Tech grabbed its first lead on Travon McMillian's second touchdown, a 4-yard run with 6:58 remaining.
As the coach walked off the field with his 278th career victory, the small Virginia Tech contingent saluted him with chants of "Beamer! Beamer! Beamer!"
"They were loud, and they helped us win," Beamer said. "They're a part of it."
Georgia Tech (3-7, 1-6) added another bitter defeat to its disappointing season. The Yellow Jackets have dropped seven of their last eight games and are assured of a losing record, likely ending their own streak of 18 straight bowls.
"I'm lost," said center Freddie Burden, summing up the attitude of everyone involved in a season that began with such high expectations. "I don't know," he added, shaking his head. "I don't know."
Georgia Tech went ahead on freshman Brant Mitchell's 32-yard interception return early in the second half, but the Yellow Jackets simply made too many mistakes to hang on.
They turned it over three times, extended Virginia Tech's winning drive with a pass interference penalty on third down inside the 10, and squandered their final chance with a downright silly flag. Having driven close to range for a potential winning field goal, quarterback Justin Thomas was stopped for a short gain.
When Chuck Clark tried to rip the ball out, offensive guard Errin Joe came in to level the Hokies safety. That drew a 15-yard penalty, essentially ending the home team's final hope.
"We've got to do a better job," coach Paul Johnson said. "It's embarrassing."
The night started much better for Georgia Tech, which jumped ahead while many fans were still stuck in Atlanta traffic.
On the second snap of the game, Thomas stunned the Hokies by connecting with Ricky Jeune on a 58-yard pass. Two plays later, Marcus Allen scored on a 4-yard run, putting the Yellow Jackets up 7-0 less than 2 minutes into the game.
It was 14-0 before the first quarter was done.
After recovering a fumble at the Virginia Tech 45, the Yellow Jackets finished off the short drive with another 4-yard touchdown run, this one by Clinton Lynch.
"You better have character guys to start the game off the way we did," Beamer said. "I thought the defense, after the beginning, played great."
Georgia Tech offense's bogged down over the final three quarters, managing just 128 yards after putting up 130 in the opening period.
The Hokies' comeback began with a 10-play, 80-yard drive in the second quarter, the lead sliced in half on McMillian's first TD from 2 yards out. Then, getting the ball back with just under 4 minutes left in the half, Virginia Tech drove for a tying score. Michael Brewer hooked up with Isaiah Ford on a 17-yard touchdown pass with 35 seconds remaining.
Virginia Tech started the second half on offense, but it was Georgia Tech that reclaimed the lead. On third down from his own 25, Brewer threw a pass right to Mitchell, who took it to the end zone without being touched.
McMillian rushed for 135 yards on 24 carries. Brewer completed 15 of 29 passes for 178 yards.
After it was over, Beamer did a little dance in the locker room.
So far, he's enjoying his farewell tour.
"These are his last games," receiver Cam Phillips said. "We want to send him out the right way."
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963
AP college football website: http://www.collegefootball.ap.org