It was a tale of two halves at Georgia Tech on Saturday afternoon as the Yellow Jackets took on, and defeated, the Georgia Southern Eagles at Bobby Dodd stadium. The final score of 42-38 in favor of the Yellow Jackets indicated just how close the game but the final score didn’t provide any clues as to how they won, with Tech needing a late game rally to win the intrastate game with just 23 seconds left on the clock.
It didn’t always look like it was going to be close; Georgia Tech came out firing on all cylinders scoring a touchdown after just three plays and just over a minute played in the first quarter. Charles Perkins broke for a 63 yard run on Tech’s first play setting up Justin Thomas for an 8 yard rushing touchdown just two plays later.
Tech’s second possession while not as explosive, was just as effective with a 10 play 84 yard drive that resulted in another touchdown Laskey being on the receiving end from 12 yards out.
The entire first half was more of the same. Georgia Tech racked up 19 first downs and 385 yards of total offense and more than 21 minutes of possession in taking a commanding 35-10 lead over their local rivals. By contrast Georgia Southern could only muster 130 yards of offense and five first downs. It did not look promising for the Eagles.
But it appeared that the Yellow Jackets lost some fo their focus in the second half. Southern had the ball first and, aided by a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty against Tech linebacker Paul Davis, drove down and scored making the score 35-17.
Tech only managed 40 yards of offense in the third quarter while Georgia Southern rushed and passed for 228 yards in the period. They also scored 20 points to close within five points with Tech still leading 35-30.
On their first possession of the fourth quarter, Georgia Southern started on their own six-yard line and, in a dominant drive that only needed one third down, scored the go-ahead touchdown. Adding a successful two-point conversion, Southern took the lead 38-35 to complete a remarkable comeback.
Georgia Southern had to feel optimistic about their chances when they stopped Tech on their next possession after only 16 yards. The Eagles then put together a drive that did everything it was supposed to do; it ran more than 4 minutes off the clock taking the ball from their own 15-yard line to the Tech 24-yard line. They were poised to score again when Favian Upshaw fumbled a lateral pass and turned the ball over to Georgia Tech.
Tech, who hadn’t been able to put together a drive of more than 27 yards in the second half, had the ball on their own 28 yard line with just over 4 minutes left in the game. With a drive that focused on Zach Laskey and Justin Thomas, Tech manufactured an 11 play drive for 72 yards culminating in a touchdown pass to Deon Hill. The PAT was good and with only 20 seconds left Tech had regained the lead 42-38. With only 20 seconds left Southern were unable to score and Tech had completed the most remarkable comeback to move to 3-0 on the season while Georgia Southern dropped to 1-2.
In his post-game press conference Paul Johnson said, “It was a heck of a game. It was a lot more exciting than it needed to be. You have to give them credit. They fought back hard and they never quit. They played hard. At the end we finally found a way to make a play on offense…I thought we played very well in the first half. Then offensively you can’t miss a turn. I think there were four or five possessions. That’s kind of the way the game was going. We’ve got to try and clean it up and do better.”
Southern head coach Willie Fritz commented on his team, “We’re disappointed in how we played the first half, and we’re disappointed in not winning the ball game. I’m proud of the guys for how they came out in the second half and took control of the game. My hat’s off to Georgia Tech for coming back to score at the end of the game when things weren’t going too well for them. Congratulations to them.”
There is no doubt that Geoegia Tech will have a tough week in practice focusing on some of the mental lapses that allowed Southern back into the game. Next up for the Yellow Jackets is a road game that opens ACC conference play at Virginia Tech while Georgia Southern plays at South Alabama.