ATLANTA, GA – For the second time in as many games and for the fourth time this season, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (5-4, 4-3) found themselves in a familiar yet uncomfortable situation. Another blown lead in the fourth quarter with little time to salvage a win.
In the three prior attempts they came up short, with the opposition making just one more play, forcing the good guys in white and gold to contemplate, “what just happened?”
On Saturday against the #17 Virginia Tech Hokies (7-3, 3-3), the Jackets dictated a different ending. By way of big plays on offense and defense, Georgia Tech responded to a late deficit and sealed a big win against their Coastal division rivals, 28-22.
In doing so the Jackets ended the speculation about whether this year’s team could deliver in the clutch. Instead they may find themselves pondering, “Why couldn’t we figure this out sooner?”
Junior quarterback TaQuon Marshall offered his take. “We were just trying to prove a point,” said Marshall. “I mean, we hear all the time, ‘You guys can’t finish.’ This week we really tried to put an emphasis on it like ‘Hey, this is our time to show everyone that we actually can finish,’ and you see what happens when we do finish.”
As Tech’s signal-caller, Marshall’s day was unsurprisingly emblematic of the Jackets’ as a whole. Offensively, the Jackets operated in fits and starts in large part due to a Hokies’ defense that limited their ACC opponents to 13 points per game coming into Saturday.
Big plays led Georgia Tech to four touchdown drives, with none bigger than Marshall’s strike to wide receiver Ricky Jeune in the fourth quarter. Following a pick-six by Virginia Tech’s Greg Stroman, a momentum-seizing play that catapulted the Hokies ahead of the Jackets by one point with 7:27 to go in the game, Marshall went back to work. Just two plays later, Jeune was running free behind the Hokies’ secondary and Marshall found him in stride thru the air, an 80-yard strike that proved to be the difference in the game.
It was Marshall’s second completion of the game – his second touchdown pass no less – that put the Jackets in the driver’s seat. And his head coach was content with that performance. Said Paul Johnson, “[TaQuon] made, what, two completions and they were both for touchdowns and it ended up being 140 yards?” So we’ll live with that. That’s a pretty good average.”
Not to be outdone, the Jackets’ defense delivered when the game pressure hit its peak. Virginia Tech’s last grasp drive of the game almost resembled those of games past with Tennessee, Miami and Virginia. In each of those games, a late fourth quarter drive by the opposition was the clincher.
Today, the Jackets’ defense was the difference. After shutting down the Virginia Tech offense for much of the day, the Hokies built some early momentum on their final drive. The Hokies converted two fourth downs and moved the ball 42 yards to the Georgia Tech 32-yard line. The Jackets faced a third 4th down attempt to end the game. On 4th and 1, the Hokies’ dialed up a play-action pass to their prolific wide receiver Cam Phillips.
Said Hokies’ head coach Justin Fuente, “We had the best matchup that we could possibly get. We had press coverage with our best guys. Everything we did offensively was a struggle, and we had a couple opportunities to go win the game… I felt like we had an opportunity with as good of a look as we were going to get to go win the game.”
The good news for Georgia Tech? Redshirt freshman cornerback Ajani Kerr ran step-for-step with Phillips down the seam. Hokies’ quarterback Josh Jackson gave Phillips a chance to be the hero on his toss to the end zone, but Kerr blanketed Phillips all the way thru the ball, knocking it to the ground with 1:03 to go. Kerr, a seldom used cornerback, stole the spotlight instead.
The performance by the Jackets defense as a whole should not be an afterthought. The Hokies offense struggled their way to 258 yards and 16 points for the game.
Saturday’s win was the Georgia Tech’s 8th straight at home and Paul Johnson’s 9th vs. a ranked team at Bobby Dodd Stadium. But those achievements are small compared to a confidence-boosting win that the Jackets needed and earned. There are few better ways than versus Virginia Tech to exorcise those last-minute loss demons, and today the Yellow Jackets proved clutch.
Other news and notes
- As mentioned above, Georgia Tech’s four touchdown drives were propelled by big plays:
- On their first, A-Back Nathan Cottrell ripped off a 69 yard run down the Hokies sideline to set up a short Marshall touchdown run.
- On their second, B-Back KirVonte Benson had a run of 21 yards while A-Back Clinton Lynch shook defenders on his way to a 16 yard gain.
- On their third, Marshall hit wide receiver Brad Stewart for 60 yards thru the air for Stewart’s first career touchdown.
- On their fourth and final drive, Marshall found Ricky Jeune thru the air and Jeune sprinted to an 80-yard touchdown reception.
- Linebacker Brant Mitchell returned to the field fully healthy this week and led the Jackets in tackles with 9 total, 6 solo, and 1 sack.
- A-Back Omahri Jarrett made his debut as kick returner, bringing out three kicks with a long of 24 yards.