There was no dramatic rally for Georgia Southern this time around against Georgia Tech.
Two years ago, in the first meeting between the two teams, Georgia Tech jumped out to a 35-10 halftime lead, only to see the Eagles rally in the second half to take a 38-35 lead.
The Yellow Jackets, however, managed to score with 23 seconds to play to pull out a 42-38 win that still rankles Georgia Southern.
Georgia Tech jumped out to another big halftime lead Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium, but this time around there was no Eagles rally as the Yellow Jackets (4-3) snapped a three-game losing streak.
Georgia Southern head coach Tyson Summers made no effort to conceal his disappointment in postgame interviews as he watched his team lose its third straight game after opening the season with three victories.
All three of the losses have come in a stretch in which Georgia Southern plays four straight road games. The Eagles wrap up the road trip next week when they play at New Mexico State.
“Like I told our football team a little while ago in the locker room, there is no such thing as a moral victory,” Summers said. “There is no part of that that makes you want to sit there and feel good about any part of the day.
“We walked in to the stadium to play an opponent we certainly expected to beat and did not come out of the gate the way we needed to. We certainly did not get the start we needed. We were down 14 points before we could breathe.”
Georgia Tech stunned Georgia Southern with touchdowns on its first three possessions, two of them coming on explosive plays.
Quarterback Justin Thomas scored on a 58-yard run on the Yellow Jackets’ third play, and on the second play of the ensuing possession he teamed with Clinton Lynch on a 65-yard scoring pass.
The Eagles were on their heels, having giving up 14 points in a little more than two minutes.
Georgia Southern answered with a 1-yard run by L.A. Ramsby to cap an 18 play, 75-yard drive, only to see Georgia Tech came right back with a six-play, 75-yard march capped by Dedrick Mills’ 6-yard run.
All told, the Yellow Jackets were up 21-7, having gained 221 yards on only 11 plays.
It was 21-10 at the half, and Georgia Tech dashed any comeback hopes when it methodically marched 90 yards on its first possession of the second half.
“We’ve got to have a better plan to start fast, and that starts with me,” Summers said. “I will say this: I’m really proud of those players in that locker room for continuing to play as hard as they did, continuing to believe.
“They continued to play and got points back on the board,” Summers said. “I thought the defense after the first two scores did a nice job of settling in. Georgia Tech came back to score to get it to 21, but I thought we had a number of series where the defense was able to sit there and stop them.”
This was the first time this season the Eagles had faced a true triple-option team, and Summers said as hard as the Eagles had worked to prepare, it was still an adjustment.
“It’s the speed and the cutting, those are two things you cannot simulate in practice,” Summers said. “I felt like after the first two series we settled in.
“One of the things about playing the option, unfortunately, is it takes you a couple of series to settle in. When I’ve faced option teams in the past, that typically is what happens. Very seldom do you go out there at the start and go three-and-out.”
Georgia Tech outgained the Eagles 437 yards to 335 despite running only 55 plays to Georgia Southern’s 83. The Eagles also owned time of possession, as they had the ball for 33:35.
Georgia Southern’s 33 passing attempts were the most in a game since 2006 when Brian VanGorder was the head coach and Summers was his safeties coach.
Favian Upshaw started and completed 8-of-16 passes for 66 yards, and Kevin Ellison was 10-for-17 for 102 yards and a touchdown.
Senior linebacker Ironhead Gallon led Georgia Southern with 10 tackles, and he said the early big plays the defense allowed put the Eagles in a hole.
“They came out and executed well,” Gallon said. “It’s tough to give up big plays like that, but we pushed on.
“We were trying to make it a perimeter game, but they hit those big plays up the middle.
“Defending the option is tough. Everybody has to be on the same page and know their responsibilities. For me, it was easy because when I came in (under head coach Jeff Monken) that’s what we did and I practiced against it. You have to fight off blocks and secure tackles when you get there.”