ATHENS, GA – It’s happened three times since Paul Johnson took over as head football coach at Georgia Tech in 2008. The Georgia Bulldogs hold a second half lead over the Yellow Jackets, one that appears insurmountable to the layman. A sense of confidence builds in the ‘Dawg fans – some begin trash talking Tech’s players, some begin texting their Tech friends after a week of unacknowledged quiet anxiety, and others are so at ease that they leave Sanford Stadium early to begin celebrating.
And then the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets rip their hearts out.
Three times may constitute a trend despite nonconsecutive results. 2008, 2014 and 2016 all included a similar recipe for success. First, there were heroics from Johnson’s spread option offense just as claims of the blueprint begin murmuring through the crowd. And second, there are timely turnovers forced by the Jackets’ defense or special teams. Mix it all together, and voilà! Tech serves the perfect meal to choke the ‘Dawgs.
This year’s version of Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate included big plays from a cast of characters. A-Back Clinton Lynch continued doing what he does – making plays with the ball in his hands. His final stat line: 5 touches for 75 total yards (15 yards per touch). He kickstarted the day’s drama by way of a 42 yard gash down the Tech sideline to give the Jackets an early 7-0 lead.
“Qua [Searcy] made a good block on the perimeter, Qua and the receiver,” said Lynch. “It was really just wide open. I just ran.”
Cornerback Lance Austin is another who continued his knack for making plays. On Saturday, with Tech trailing 27-21 with under 4 minutes to go, he found himself next to a deflected pass. The result: an interception to put the Jackets’ offense back on the field with a chance to win in plus territory.
“We were in a zone coverage. I think [Jacob] Eason thought we were in man,” said Austin. “It was disguised real good. It got tipped right to me and I caught it... my other teammates put me in great positions.”
Last but certainly not least on the list of top performers was A-Back Qua Searcy. In a single 8 second burst that will go down in Georgia Tech lore, Searcy’s decision to minimize damage on a busted play in turn proved heroic.
With Tech down 6 at the Georgia 6 yard line and 38 seconds to go, Johnson pulled an A-Back pass out of his bag of tricks. Soon after the ball was pitched into Searcy’s hands, the initial read on the play was blown up with quarterback Justin Thomas covered by Georgia defenders. Rather than force a pass into coverage, Searcy pulled the ball down to run and make something out of nothing. That something was one decisive cut and Superman dive through the heart of Bulldogs defense. The result: a game-winning touchdown for Tech and a stake through Georgia’s heart.
“I think it was just a split second decision,” said Searcy. “I was really about to throw the ball but I saw about 5 defenders go toward [Thomas] and nobody was really in the middle. So, I think I dove from the three [yard line] but I knew I had to go airborn.”
With 30 seconds to go, a final last gasp from Georgia’s offense proved futile against a toughening Georgia Tech defense. Linebacker Brant Mitchell intercepted Eason’s Hail Mary heave as time expired to put a bow on the afternoon.
The final score: Georgia Tech 28-27.
With the win Paul Johnson is now 3-2 versus Georgia in Athens, a strange dichotomy against Tech’s 0-4 record in Atlanta during the same time. While there seem to be few safer road venues than Sanford Stadium since Johnson took over at the helm, it’s unlikely that Athens will make his list of retirement options when he hangs up the whistle.
Two things are certain though.
One, Johnson will defer credit to his team for a hard fought win. “We just keep playing,” said Johnson. “This team don’t get a whole lot of respect, nor does the program. So you just keep playing. And I think they’ve done a really good job of doing that. We don’t listen to anybody. We just play.”
The second? With another win in Athens, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets once again run this state.