The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets are 4-0. They’ve just won 27-24 on a game-winning field goal against a Virginia Tech team in Lane Stadium – the very same VT squad that took down #8 Ohio State at the Horseshoe two weeks ago. And they did it in come-from-behind fashion, for the second week in a row. In what will go down as one of the most significant wins in recent Georgia Tech history, we saw more poise, more leadership, and above all, more heart than we’ve seen by this team in a long time.
Even though the game seemed out of reach at multiple points in the second half, the Jackets never gave up; nothing could shake their composure. A scorching 80-yard touchdown run by Justin Thomas was called back for an illegal block, Harrison Butker missed a 30-yard field goal, and Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Brewer scooped up a loose ball and ran it 21 yards for a score, just three minutes after the Jackets had taken the lead 17-16 with 11 minutes left in the game. No, the Jackets withstood every knockout blow the Hokies dealt them, before administering a finishing blow themselves.
The Jackets struggled on offense for most of the first half. Justin Thomas ran the ball three times for 54 yards to ultimately set up a 43-yard field goal attempt, which Butker hooked in from the right hash. However, penalties were the name of the game for the next three drives, in which the Jackets lost 25 yards on four drive-killing penalties. Fortunately, a Corey Griffin interception gave the Jackets the ball with under four to go in the half, which Justin Thomas capitalized on with a two-yard touchdown run to make it 13-10. With 57 seconds on the clock, though, the Hokies responded with a quick drive and field goal that gave them a 16-10 advantage going into halftime.
The game got scrappy in the third quarter, with both teams stepping up on defense and special teams. The Jackets defense forced a punt on the Hokies’ opening drive, but an errant pitch by Thomas the following possession resulted in a turnover that gave Virginia Tech the ball at the GT 10.
The Tech defense drew a line in the sand and didn’t concede even an inch to the Hokies’ offense, though, and forced the Hokies to bring on the kicking unit to attempt a 32-yard field goal, which Chris Milton blocked in a tremendous, game-changing effort. The very next play, Justin Thomas torched the Hokies defense for a blazing 80-yard touchdown run to seemingly give the Jackets the lead, but it was called back due to an illegal block. Tech still drove 67 yards downfield to the VT 13 despite the penalty, but wound up missing a 30-yard field goal.
Following the miss, the Jackets defense held again, and the teams swapped possessions until early in the fourth quarter, when linebacker Paul Davis jumped a route and nabbed an interception at the VT 41 before turning on the burners and taking it all the way to the house for six. The Jackets took a 17-16 lead thanks to one of the biggest defensive plays in Head Coach Paul Johnson’s time at Georgia Tech.
Virginia Tech didn’t take long to answer. In three minutes and six plays, they moved the ball down to the GT 35, where disaster struck. Jackets freshman DB Lawrence Austin stripped the ball from VT RB (and former GT prospect) Shai McKenzie, but VT’s Brewer scooped it up and ran it in from the 21, giving the Hokies a 24-17 lead after a successful two-point conversion. Just eight minutes remained on the clock.
The Jackets stumbled to a three-and-out on their next drive, but forced a three-and-out of their own and got the ball back on their own 33 with five minutes left. A few plays later, Thomas found himself facing 4th and 15 from midfield with three minutes remaining. The game seemed out of reach, but Thomas delivered his best throw of the day 19 yards downfield to DeAndre Smelter, who hauled in the catch at the VT 31 for a first down. Two plays later, they connected again on a 31-yard strike down the far sideline to knot the game at 24.
Then, the magic happened.
On the first play of the following drive, VT’s Brewer targeted TE Bucky Hodges downfield, but Tech DB D.J. White made a fantastic interception at the 40-yard line, giving the Jackets a shot at their first win over VT since 2009.
The Jackets drove down to the VT 7, largely fueled by another 19-yard completion by Smelter, before bringing on the kicking unit with just three seconds left. And this time, Butker didn’t miss.
The Jackets stormed the field after time expired to celebrate a key 27-24 victory over their divisional rival in their conference play opener.
Justin Thomas finished the day rushing for a monster 165 yards and 1 TD, while going 7/18 for 125 yards and 1 TD through the air. DeAndre Smelter had 101 yards on 5 catches and a TD, and Laskey added 80 tough yards on the ground.
Said Paul Johnson of the win: "Our guys had a lot of chances to lay down, but they kept fighting. We’re 4-0."
What are your thoughts on this game? How does it stack up against all of Paul Johnson's wins at Georgia Tech?