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Junior Defensive Back AJ Gray (#5) returning the first of his two interceptions with Junior Linebacker Brant Mitchell (#51) leading the way.

ATLANTA, GA – Fresh off of one of their finest defensive performances in years last weekend against the Pittsburgh Panthers, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (3-1, 2-0) intended to prove that was no fluke.

Consider that mission a success.

Viewers of today’s tilt against the North Carolina Tar Heels (1-4, 0-3) at Bobby Dodd Stadium saw a salty Yellow Jackets’ defense that turned in a comparable, if not better, performance against their second consecutive Coastal division foe. One game after yielding 10 points to the Panthers, the Tech defense outdid itself by surrendering just 7 points to the Tar Heels.

“I thought that for the most part our defense played really well again,” said head coach Paul Johnson.

Junior safety A.J. Gray was the star of stars for the Jackets. Facing his sister’s alma mater, Gray snagged two interceptions against the Tar Heels’ to cement a Georgia Tech victory, 33-7. Gray’s two interceptions were his first in over two years when he hauled in his first career takeaway (September 26, 2015 @ Duke).

His performance led Tech to its first win over North Carolina since 2013.

“I told somebody walking in, I thought A.J. probably played as well as he has played,” said Johnson. “Some of their run-pass stuff he was right on cue with it. He stepped underneath the slants and got a couple picks and it was good to see him make plays because he has got a lot of ability. Plus he made a couple nice plays in open field on tackles. I’m proud of A.J., I thought he played well.”

Gray, oft-understated and a man of few words, was again quietly humble. “It was definitely a step up,” said Gray. “It just happened. Now I have to build off of it and get better every game.”

Senior defensive end Antonio Simmons and senior cornerback Step Durham added one sack apiece. For Simmons, it was his 3rd sack in two games. For Durham, it was the first of his career and came at a crucial juncture with the Tar Heels driving late in the first half.

Offensively the Jackets were held to their second lowest rushing output of the year… of 403 yards. That is an impressive number to say the least. Junior quarterback TaQuon Marshall and redshirt sophomore KirVonte Benson led Tech’s ground game again with 137 and 130 yards, respectively. It was the third time in four games that they broke the 100-yard mark together.

And in true Georgia Tech fashion, neither was completely satisfied and both recognized their performance can get better. Each lost a fumble at moments when the Jackets could have seemingly put the game away.

Asked about his performance relative to the prior week, Marshall graded his play today as “average”. Continuing he said, “I turned the ball over. Missed some throws early. It was a step up from last week, but still not where I want to be.”

Even the Jackets’ defense believes there is room to improve. “I don’t feel like we played our bests,” said Simmons. “We can get better in a lot of ways. We’re still letting them drive the ball. They missed two field goals but we still gave up enough yards that we can play way better than we did.”

Senior cornerback Lance Austin agreed. “That’s one thing about our defense. We’re never satisfied and we’re not going to get complacent. We’re always looking for a way to get better.”

Complacent, these Jackets are not. For a team that has nearly doubled up each of its four opponents in yardage this year, those comments suggest that “good” will not be good enough.

Following next week’s bye, competition ratchets up quickly. Coming in to the weekend, the Jackets’ final seven opponents on the schedule were a combined 25-1. Their stiffest test to-date comes next with a visit to #14 Miami.

For the third consecutive contest the Jackets will be looking to snap a losing streak to a Coastal division foe, having lost the last two to the Hurricanes. For a Tech team unwilling to settle for less than its best, the table is set to prove exactly what its best can achieve.

Video courtesy of ACC Digital Network

ATLANTA, GA - Once is chance. Twice is coincidence. Third time is a trend.

That's what we have now, after the Yellow Jackets (13-8, 5-4) knocked off their third top 15 opponent at home in three tries. This time, Georgia Tech went toe-to-toe with #14 Notre Dame and dropped the Irish 62-60 via last second dramatics.

Tied at 60 all with under 30 seconds remaining, Notre Dame held the ball with 4 seconds separating the game and shot clock. A chance for last shot or, worst case, overtime was almost within grasp. With one timeout remaining, Irish coach Mike Brey chose to let it ride and handed the keys to the game to his energizer bunny, point guard Matt Farrell.

Farrell, maestro of many pick and rolls throughout the game, tried once more. Like many times before, Farrell's attempt was met by hawkish Georgia Tech defense, this time from point guard Josh Heath. Needing to make a play with 7 seconds to go, Farrell forced up a tough one-handed leaner that hit the back iron and slid off the rim.

The rest will find its way into Georgia Tech highlights for years to come.

Jackets' shooting guard Tadric Jackson hauled in the weak side rebound, turned up court and hit freshman phenom Josh Okogie in stride down the right sideline with 2.3 seconds to go.

"I looked up at the clock and saw that I had time, saw 4 seconds on the clock," said Jackson. "The last thing I remembered I saw Josh [Okogie] just sprinting so hard, and I had no choice but to give it to him."

Upon catching the ball just over mid-court, Okogie took just one dribble and two steps en route to the game-winning layup as time expired. McCamish Pavilion roared. And Okogie, shut down and in foul trouble for much of the game, proved one play can make up for the rest.

"I knew what time was on the clock before I caught it, so when I caught the ball, I just knew I had to get going fast," said Okogie. "As soon as I laid it up, I knew it was going in."

Make no mistake about it, the outcome was no fluke. Tech led 35-31 at the half. The Jackets made a normally efficient Notre Dame offense look ordinary to the tune of 40% shooting for the game. Irish captain Steve Vasturia was held to 5 points, 10 points short of his season average, on 1 for 7 shooting.

"It was hard for us to get into any offensive rhythm," said Brey. "The guards that [Pastner] plays can all play defense. You got the shot blockers in the back. We worked like heck to get to 60 points today."

As the wins continue to mount for Georgia Tech, including those of resume-boosting variety, expectations are burgeoning in parallel. Eyes around the program are refocusing toward the NCAA tournament, a sight almost inconceivable prior to ACC play.

Joining the increasing expectations is one more unmistakable rise; that is the enthusiasm around the Georgia Tech basketball program. McCamish Pavilion was a sight to behold, game highlights aside. An oft late arriving crowd was near capacity by tip. The student section was full 30 minutes prior. Those unable to enter due to max capacity waited outside thru halftime for a chance to get in.

The excitement is back. The "Thrill" has come back to the "Thrillerdome". And the 2016-2017 Yellow Jackets have earned every bit of it.

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Georgia Tech true freshman Dedrick Mills (#26) rushed for career-high 169 yards and earned MVP honors in Tech's rout of Kentucky at the 2016 TaxSlayer Bowl.

JACKSONVILLE, FL – One season after snapping an 18-year bowl streak, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (9-4, 4-4) got back on track in a big way today in sunny Florida. Saturday’s 33-18 thrashing of the Kentucky Wildcats (7-6, 4-4) put Head Coach Paul Johnson on the postgame podium to accept the TaxSlayer Bowl victors trophy on behalf of the 2016 edition of the Jackets.

Perhaps there’s something to New Year’s Eve bowl games for Tech. Much like 2014’s Orange Bowl victory over Mississippi State, 2016’s game versus the Wildcats proved the Jackets are capable of winning big on the date. And like 2014, contributions came from multiple phases of the game.

As they say, there are many ways to skin a ‘Cat.

First, and with little time wasted, Georgia Tech’s defense took the field for the first series of the game. Four plays into Kentucky’s opening possession, senior captain Pat Gamble got to Wildcats quarterback Stephen Johnson in the backfield culminating in a strip sack. Without a second’s hesitation, linebacker P.J. Davis scooped the ball and scored on a 38 yard touchdown return.

“That was a great play,” said Paul Johnson. “Trying to run a sprint-out pass. P.J. came on a blitz, [Gamble] slapped the ball loose, picked it up, was able to get it in the end zone. Can't think of a better way to start the game. That was a great start.”

Throughout most of the game, the Georgia Tech defense stifled the Kentucky offense. The Wildcats managed just 3 points and 199 total yards through the game’s first 3 quarters, and the Jackets’ defense applied enough pressure in the backfield to keep their third SEC opponent of the year off balance.

“It was very important for us in the game plan,” said Gamble. “We had to get pressure when they threw the ball. We knew they was going to run the football. When it was time for them to throw the ball, we had to push and get some pressure, man. Lucky we did that.”

Second, the Jackets spread option offense churned enough to keep the Kentucky defense on the field for 32:22 of the game. True freshman Dedrick Mills carried the load with 31 carries, 169 yards and 1 touchdown on way to game MVP. He seemingly gained strength and confidence as the game wore on, with 82 of those yards coming in the 4th quarter alone.

“It wasn't that tough. It wasn't that tough,” said Mills. “Behind the offensive line, running off their blocks. Made it easier for me to find holes and get through them.”

Mills’ quip brought a chuckle to senior captain and quarterback Justin Thomas’ face. Thomas himself was largely forced to feed Mills and the A-Backs throughout the game due to Kentucky’s gameplan to take the ball out of his hands. But it wasn’t enough to keep him from finding paydirt on a backbreaking 21 yard draw with 49 seconds to go in the first half.

The play that put Tech up 17-3 highlighted many of Thomas’ trademarks in his swan song campaign: first showing patience to pull the Wildcats defensive line upfield, next accelerating on a dime downfield bowing out toward the sideline, and finally proving otherworldly athleticism by stretching out toward the pylon for 6. The Thomas run is a microcosm of the legacy he leaves at Georgia Tech as he moves on to the next phase of his journey.

“I mean, he's had a great career, no doubt. He's such a great kid. He's just been a joy to coach, a joy to work with,” said Johnson. “Sometimes you have to be gone for a year or two before people really realize what you did. There's no question that he'll go down as, you know, one of the greats at Georgia Tech. I mean, he's had a heck of a career.”

Finally, speaking of great, there have been few if any better kickers in Georgia Tech’s history than the third senior captain, Harrison Butker. Butker entered the bowl game needing a single point to break Georgia Tech’s career points record. He did so with flying colors, converting all 4 of his field goal attempts and 3 extra points en route to a 15 point day. He set a bowl record with 4 field goals, breaking a previous Tech record of 2.

“It was a lot of fun,” said Butker. “Especially at Tech where throughout my career I’ve only had maybe 1 or 2 a game. And whenever I did have 3 field goals I usually didn’t make all of them. To make all 4, I’m really happy.”

A blocked punt by junior linebacker Terrell Lewis in the 2nd quarter added one more play to the Jackets’ Special Teams highlight reel. It also led to a successful 51 yard field goal attempt by Butker as the first half clock expired.

With the win, Tech finished the 2016 season on a 4 game win streak. They are 3-0 against SEC opponents and 5-1 in their last 6 games versus the conference. And like 2014, Yellow Jackets nation rings in the New Year victorious and with some fancy hardware on its way home to Atlanta.