Down two scores at Sanford Stadium, a place Georgia Tech had won at just five times in the last 30 years, is no easy feat to overcome. Throw that two-score deficit on a run-heavy offense with precious minutes ticking away in the fourth quarter ... and you have a near insurmountable task ahead.
When Qua Searcy began running backward on a fourth-and-four attempt near midfield, the comeback appeared impossible. Georgia took over from its 49-yard line with a 13-point lead and 11:58 on the clock. The Jackets got a stop, but 94 yards of field remained between Tech and the end zone to cut the lead to six. Two long passes from Justin Thomas set the Jackets up in UGA territory, and Marcus Marshall and Dedrick Mills did the rest to cut the deficit to one score with 6:28 remaining.
Therein lied the problem — could Georgia Tech’s defense, which had been on the field for more than 60 plays, get one last stop. UGA came into the drive 7-of-12 on third down. Three plays later ... 8-of-13. The clock ticked to less than four minutes as the Bulldogs faced a second-and-eight at their own 40-yard line. Georgia only needed a couple more first downs.
But as P.J. Davis said after the game, “17 is always somehow around the ball, he always makes big plays.” Lance Austin did it again. As Jacob Eason’s pass got tipped into the air, Austin fell down and made a game-changing interception to get the offense the ball in Georgia territory with plenty of time remaining.
Suddenly, with less than a minute left in the game, the Jackets had a first-and-goal with a chance to take down the Bulldogs. The UGA defense responded ... no gain, no gain. Tech faced third-and-goal from the 6-yard line. When Searcy received Thomas’ pitch, the play looked like it may result in him running backward as the Jackets’ chances dwindled away, much like the third-quarter stop that put Tech in a big hole. He then looked left and moved into throwing motion toward a heavily covered Thomas. Searcy tucked the ball and sprinted to the middle of the field at a gap in the UGA defense and leapt high into the air, stretching his arms out for the biggest touchdown of his career ... a touchdown that his name will forever be attached to.
“It’s a great feeling,” Searcy said about his game-winning score.” Especially to do it for a great institution. We have great guys. Just to have that [touchdown] video playing back ... it says a lot about us.”
Georgia had 30 seconds to form a miracle, but Eason’s Hail Mary attempt wobbled in air as time expired, and Brant Mitchell picked it off to seal the improbable victory for the Yellow Jackets.
“We like coming from behind here,” Tech coach Paul Johnson said. “It’s kinda the way it works.
In a third quarter that perfectly encapsulated much of the Georgia-Georgia Tech rivalry through the past 15 years, the Bulldogs took complete control of a game that was back-and-forth in the first half. Coming out of halftime with the ball, Isaiah Willis coughed up a fumble while the Jackets were driving, giving UGA the ball in great field position.
Tech’s defense held strong, only giving up a 27-yard field goal to UGA. The Jackets second drive was another disaster. After a 6-yard gain on first down, Tech lost 18 yards on the next two plays and had to punt it away. Georgia responded with a five-play, 76-yard touchdown drive to put — what appeared to be — a dagger into the Jackets as the momentum shifted heavily to the red and black.
After another three-and-out from Tech, UGA began a possible game-ending march toward the east end zone. But once again, the resilient — and exhausted — Jackets defense held tight in the red zone and forced a field goal from Rodrigo Blankenship to give the Bulldogs a 13-point lead with mere seconds left until the fourth quarter.
“We fumbled the ball and it kinda changed the momentum a little bit,” Johnson said about the third quarter. “We didn’t make plays. It was kinda the microcosm of our season, we couldn’t get off the field, but we don’t give up a lot of points. When we have to on defense, we held them to a couple field goals, and that was the difference in the game.”
Georgia Tech was outgained by Georgia by just 12 yards, despite running 18 fewer plays. The Jackets finished with more passing yards with 18 fewer attempts, and they averaged 7.5 yards per play for the game. Coming into the meeting, Tech was 19th in the nation in yards per play, compared to Georgia’s rank of 92nd. Much like the win against Virginia, the Jackets’ offense relied on explosive plays to move the ball down the field.
Starting with the ball, the Bulldogs used eight runs on an 11-play drive to get to Tech’s 25-yard line. Facing third down for the first time, Eason threw an out-route to a wide open Riley Ridley, but he failed to make the catch. Attempting a 42-yard field goal to put points on the board, Georgia’s endeared kicker, Blankenship, missed the field goal, giving the Jackets defense a win to start the game.
The offense quickly took advantage of the opportunity. Qua Searcy got the drive going with a 32-yard run into UGA territory on a perfect pitch from Thomas. Two plays later, Big-Play Clinton Lynch took a pitch 42 yards down the right sideline to put the Jackets ahead, 7-0.
Georgia used smash-mouth football on its second drive to move the ball into Tech territory. This time, the Bulldogs found the end zone with a 10-yard touchdown run from Sony Michel to even the game up at 7-apiece.
Tech used a big play again early in the second quarter to setup a score. On first down, the Jackets used play action to bait the UGA defense, and Brad Stewart slipped behind the secondary wide open. Thomas delivered it, and Stewart scampered down to the UGA 9-yard line. Two plays later, Marcus Marshall took a B-back dive 4 yards for the score, putting Tech back ahead by 7.
The Bulldogs used a six-play, 75-yard drive to knot things back up at 14-all before the half. After Isaiah McKenzie’s 6-yard touchdown grab, both teams continued to get chippy with unsportsmanlike penalties, setting the tone for the afternoon.
With Georgia Tech’s win, the Yellow Jackets finish the regular season with an 8-4 record after starting 3-3. Justin Thomas is the first quarterback to beat Georgia twice since Joe Hamilton, and the senior class is the first to beat the Bulldogs twice since 2000.
“We just keep playing,” Johnson said. “This team don’t get a whole lot of respect ... or this program. So, you just keep playing. And I think that they’ve done a really good job of doing that. We don’t listen to anybody. We just play.”