One of the major complaints about the Georgia Tech football game all season has been its inability to close. The Yellow Jackets stumbled and lost at the finish against Tennessee, Miami and Virginia.
On Saturday, they changed the conversation. Georgia Tech was able to overcome a late deficit with a quick-strike touchdown and hold on to beat No. 17 Virginia Tech 28-22 at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
The Yellow Jackets fell behind when quarterback TaQuon Marshall threw a pick-6 that allowed Virginia Tech to take a 22-21 lead with 7:27.
Only this time, they got off the deck to win the game. On the second play of the next possession, Marshall connected with Ricky Jeune for an 80-yard touchdown to allow the Yellow Jackets to regain the lead.
And this time the Georgia Tech defense was able to answer the challenge. On fourth-and-1 at the Georgia Tech 32, reserve cornerback Ajani Kerr—playing when veteran Step Durham was injured late—broke up a pass in the end zone, allowing Georgia Tech to run out the clock.
Georgia Tech (5-4, 4-3 ACC) broke a two-game losing streak, beat its first ranked team since knocking off the Hokies last year and pulled the Yellow Jackets to within one win of becoming eligible to play in a bowl game.
Four who mattered
Marshall: The junior quarterback only completed two passes – he was 2-for-8 – but both went for touchdowns. He threw for 140 yards. Marshall also rushed 22 times for 64 yards and two touchdowns.
Georgia Tech B-back KirVonte Benson: The rugged sophomore carried 22 times against the physical Hokies’ defense and gained 86 yards. It was a necessary accomplishment on a day that the Yellow Jackets were able to sustain drives.
Georgia Tech wide receiver Brad Stewart: The junior caught a 60-yard touchdown pass, the first of his career. He also returned two punts, one of them for a season-best 21 yards.
Georgia Tech linebacker Brant Mitchell: The junior returned from injury and led the team with nine tackles. Mitchell had 1.5 tackles for loss and picked up his first sack of the season.
Georgia Tech appeared to be on the verge of putting the game out of reach midway in the third quarter. The Yellow Jackets had the ball on the 13 when they were flagged for a chop block. The penalty moved them back to the 27 and they settled for a 43-yard field goal try, which missed. Virginia answered with a touchdown to get back in the game.
An intelligent game plan: Knowing that Virginia Tech would sell out for the run, coach Paul Johnson made deep passes off play action a matter of emphasis this week. The Yellow Jackets scored on two of them, dropped a couple others and it opened up other areas of the offense.
An intelligent defensive plan: Defensive coordinator Ted Roof got his team to blitz and lay some pretty good licks on Virginia Tech quarterback Josh Jackson. He was forced into making some quick decisions and came up just short.
Kickoffs are a killer: Georgia Tech permitted a long kickoff return again, this one a 71-yarder by Virginia Tech’s Travon McMillian. It is the seventh kickoff return of at least 38 yards allowed by the Yellow Jackets.
Marshall’s latest milestone: Marshall’s two running touchdowns (from 1 and 3 yards) gives him 16 for the season and 17 for his career. He’s now third on the single-season list and tied for sixth on the all-time list.
It’s good to be at home: Georgia Tech has won eight straight home games, the fifth-longest streak in the nation. It’s the longest winning streak at The Flats since Nov. 21, 1998 to Sept. 2, 2000.
Look who’s back: The Yellow Jackets got a boost when middle linebacker Brant Mitchell and free safety A.J. Gray were back in the lineup. They missed last week’s game at Virginia.
They said it
Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson on the win: “I think they showed a lot of grit and determination. We got up and then we threw the pick-six and got down. It would have been easy to hang our head. It’s a great win and it gets us to win No. 5.”
Johnson on the defense: “I thought the defense played well, especially early on. All-in-all I think the defense did a nice job.”
Safety Corey Griffin on closing the deal: “We knew what the situation was and if you look at the past they made one more play than we did. We hold each other to a high standard and we knew today we had to make one more play than they did. We did.”
Linebacker Brant Mitchell on closing the win: “It’s be a reoccurring theme that we can’t close a game and that’s something that we wanted to prove wrong to everybody that’s watching. That’s not us and we showed it today that we can still win.”
Georgia Tech plays at Duke on Saturday, Nov. 18 at 3:30 p.m.