Strange things tend to happen in this particular rivalry.
But even as it appeared Georgia had all but sewn up this year’s game, it once again couldn’t in front of its home crowd. Down 13 in the fourth quarter, the Yellow Jackets scored 14 unanswered points to win 28-27, in improbable fashion, and hand Georgia head coach Kirby Smart his first loss in this rivalry.
Trailing 27-14 in the fourth quarter, Georgia Tech marched down the field to cut the lead to 27-21 with 6:28 left in the game.
The Bulldogs (7-5) were intent on running off some clock but called timeout with 3:39 left to play in the game. But on second-and-8, Georgia elected to call a pass instead of run, which turned into a disaster for the Bulldogs. Quarterback Jacob Eason, who otherwise had a fine game throwing the ball, threw a 2-yard flare behind receiver Terry Godwin, who ended up tipping the ball backward to the Georgia Tech secondary.
Georgia Tech defensive back Lance Austin, a Lamar County product, picked the pass off and allowed the Yellow Jackets a chance to go ahead with a little more than three minutes to go.
The Yellow Jackets (8-4) drove down the field before facing a third down on a goal-to-go series. Qua Searcy, another Lamar County product, took a toss and wanted to throw it back to quarterback Justin Thomas. Georgia, however, recognized the play and covered the route. By doing so, the middle of the field was left wide open, and Searcy was able to run through the open space and dive into the end zone for a go-ahead score.
With 30 seconds to play, Georgia was unable to get into field goal range. Eason threw up a desperation pass on the final play that didn’t come close to the end zone and was picked off.
In a sense, it was reminiscent to Georgia Tech’s victory over Georgia in 2014. The Bulldogs appeared to have the game locked up but squib-kicked the ball on the ensuing kickoff, which gave the Yellow Jackets the ball with good field position. Georgia Tech was then able to kick a 53-yard field goal to send that game to overtime, and ultimately win it 30-24 after one possession from each team.
Once the game ended, Georgia Tech players celebrated by planting their flag at midfield on top of the Georgia “G.”
Six who mattered
Searcy: The sophomore rushed eight times for 40 yards, including the game-winning touchdown on a 6-yard run with 30 seconds remaining, and caught one pass for 39 yards.
Thomas: Georgia Tech’s senior quarterback completed 6-of-10 passes for 164 yards and had one insignificant interception at the end of the first half. He rushed seven times for 10 yards, but was masterful at faking the dive to the B-back and pitching to the A-back on the outside.
Austin: Georgia Tech’s junior cornerback picked up his third interception of the season to set up the winning drive, as he gathered in a ball that bounced off Georgia’s Terry Godwin. He also had six tackles. Austin had a pick-six last week to ice the win over Virginia.
Sony Michel: The Georgia running back had perhaps the best game of his career with 19 carries for 170 yards and a touchdown. Included in that total were runs of 42 and 30 yards. Michel was Georgia’s go-to back late in the fourth quarter.
Roquan Smith: Smith, an inside linebacker from Macon County, totaled 13 tackles, which topped all defenders. One of those tackles went for a loss, and seven of them were by himself. Smith played sideline to sideline and did a pretty good job in the second half against Georgia Tech’s outside runs. Smith also forced a fumble in the third quarter, which led to three points.
Dominick Sanders: Sanders, a Georgia safety, recorded his third interception of the season near the end of the first half and recovered the forced fumble from Smith. Sanders finished the game with four tackles and added a pass breakup, as well.
Eason’s interception with less than four minutes to go turned out to be maybe the most critical mistake made all season long. It was a safe throw intended to act as an extension of the run game. But the pass was thrown behind Godwin, which forced the sophomore receiver to contort his body to try and catch it. Instead, the ball deflected into Austin’s hands. From there, Georgia Tech was able to drive down and win the game.
Georgia’s defense improved in second half, until final two drives: Georgia effectively shut down Georgia Tech’s option game in the second half until Georgia Tech’s final two possessions. The Bulldogs adjusted well out of the halftime break and contained the Yellow Jackets from breaking many outside runs. This forced Georgia Tech into punting situations, with Georgia able to jump out to a 27-14 lead. But two passing plays for 62 yards helped soften Georgia up front, which led to a Dedrick Mills rushing touchdown and Searcy’s touchdown on the subsequent drive.
Georgia Tech hit Georgia with deep ball: Georgia Tech isn’t known for its passing attack. But when it wants to go deep, it can find success after sucking teams in with the run game over and over. Thomas ended the day 6-of-10 passing for 164 yards. That means he averaged 16.4 yards per throw and 27.3 yards per completion. Georgia got sucked in on the play-action pass early, which led to receiver Brad Stewart being wide open for a 64-yard gain. Poor eye discipline from the Georgia defensive backs was part of the problem, but Georgia Tech’s ability to execute on the long ball turned out to be huge throughout the course of the game.
Georgia’s run game flourished: While the Bulldogs lost, it was one of their best days of the season running the football. Michel had 170 yards and junior running back Nick Chubb accounted for 88 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. As a whole, the Bulldogs ran the ball for 263 yards, with the offensive line, at times, mauling Georgia Tech’s front seven. But the Yellow Jackets did have better success against the run late, which led Smart and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney to call a passing play on second-and-8 with 3:39 to go.
Rare feat accomplished: For only the fourth time since this rivalry began in 1893, Georgia lost consecutive games in Athens. In 2014, the Bulldogs lost 30-24 in overtime to Georgia Tech. The only other times Georgia dropped consecutive home games against Georgia Tech were in 1950 and 1952, in 1954 and 1956 and in 1998 and 2000.
Chubb moves up career leaderboard: With his 88 yards, Chubb, who now has 3,282 career rushing yards, passed Garrison Hearst (3,232) into third place in Georgia program history. He’s only three yards behind former teammate Todd Gurley (3,285), with both of them trailing Herschel Walker’s program-best mark of 5,259 rushing yards.
Johnson sets mark against Georgia: Johnson became the second head coach in Georgia Tech history to log three wins in Athens against the Bulldogs. Johnson previously won in Athens in 2008 and 2014. The only other head coach in Georgia Tech history to do this was Bobby Dodd, who won in Athens five times (1950, 1952, 1954, 1956 and 1962).
They said it
Smart on the loss: “I’m sick for the seniors who have given so much for our program. They fought their tails off. To finish like that was not a very good job on our part. We had a big lead but we didn’t finish it.”
Outside linebacker Davin Bellamy on Georgia Tech’s comeback: “It was frustrating. Like I was saying earlier in the week, this game is a hatred game and both teams are going to bring it, and they brought it (Saturday). They weren’t going to just lay down. They fought, and they were the better team (Saturday).”
Johnson on the game-winning touchdown: “It was an either-or. It was a throwback to the quarterback but it was third down. When we took a timeout (I said), ‘It’s third down. If it’s not there, don’t force it.’ I think it froze them. (Searcy) looked like he was going to throw it, and he froze them and was able to get in (the end zone). Great play, individual play, by Qua.”
Davis on defending Michel: “It was kind of difficult bringing him down, but we just tried to gang tackle him as much as we could. Get to the ball and get him down.”
Both Georgia and Georgia Tech are both bowl eligible and will wait to find out who they play next.
Stan Awtrey contributed to this report.