ATLANTA – Georgia Tech discovered a new star on Saturday, when Jamea Thomas emerged with his best performance of the season.
The sophomore from Fitzgerald took over as punt returner and took on a bigger role at safety. He finished with five tackles, one of them for a loss, forced a fumble, broke up a pair of passes and came away with a pair of key interceptions. He returned one punt for 7 yards and had two fair catches.
“He loves to play the game,” coach Paul Johnson said. “I've said all year we've got to get him out there. He made some huge plays.”
Thomas robbed Clemson of a chance to get back in the game late in the fourth quarter. The Tigers had regained possession with an interception and had the ball at the Tech 9 and was in position to make it a one-score game.
Clemson's Taj Boyd dropped back and lobbed a pass to freshman star Sammie Watkins. The ball went over his head and into the hands of Thomas, who snatched it and got both feet down for the interception.
Thomas got the second pick when Clemson was desperately trying to drive for a late score. Thomas grabbed the errant throw on the Tech sidelines to put the game away.
Tech head coach Paul Johnson had a few sharp words for people who had given up on his team after its back-to-back losses.
“All the guys breaking their necks to jump off the bandwagon really motivated us,” Johnson told radio announcer Wes Durham after the game. “It really helped us get ready.”
The Jackets had fallen out of the rankings after losing games to Virginia and Miami.
“I know a lot of people are disappointed that wrote us off, but we have a chance to play again,” Johnson said. “Like I said earlier, let us finish the season before you do our tombstone. I'm really proud of our guys. I could not be prouder.”
Tech was able to limit the damage done by Clemson's Sammie Watkins, the game-breaking freshman.
Watkins caught 10 passes for 159 yards, but most were short or intermediate passes that did little damage. The exception was a 48-yard touchdown pass, the 10th of the season for Watkins, to open the second half and give Clemson some momentum.
Watkins also ran one time for 7 yards, completed an option pass for 9 yards, and returned six kickoffs for 124 yards, one a 38-yard effort that set the Tigers up at midfield.
Tech played close to a mistake-free game. The Yellow Jackets had only four penalties for 23 yards, the worst infraction being a chop block flag that put them in a deep hole on their second possession. Tech lost one fumble and Washington threw one interception.
Clemson had two interceptions, lost two of three fumbles and drew five flags for 30 yards.
B-BACK BOOST Tech made good use of the B-Back on Saturday. David Sims carried 15 times for 68 yards and one touchdown and Preston Lyons carried nine times for 42 yards.
“We had to be patient and grind away,” Lyons said. “We knew what we had to do and did it. We just had to settle down.”