Dec. 26, 2016
Andy Demetra | Inside the Chart
Qua Searcy suspected it as soon as he reached the sidelines.
“`If Harrison makes this [extra point], that play will be replayed over and over and over. And I know Harrison is a clutch guy,'” Searcy thought to himself, moments after his game-tying touchdown with 30 seconds left against Georgia.
Technically, it was placekicker Harrison Butker who scored the game-winning point in Georgia Tech’s 28-27 win over Georgia in Athens. But the 2016 edition of Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate will forever be remembered for “The Leap,” a thrilling piece of improvisation that capped a 13-point fourth-quarter comeback against the Bulldogs.
Searcy has been seemingly frozen in mid-air ever since, his gutsy Superman dive with seven Georgia defenders encircling him quickly becoming one of the iconic images in the history of the rivalry. The play has spawned a cottage industry of photoshops, nicknames, tributes and witty captions on social media.
When the Jackets return to campus today, ready to start their game-week preparations for the TaxSlayer Bowl against Kentucky, exactly one month will have passed since Searcy’s leap into immortality. Not surprisingly, it has been a heady last month for the Barnesville, Ga. A-back.
Standing ovations. Autograph requests. Social media recognition. Backstage access (sort of). Clearly, life after “The Leap” has been very, very good.
“It’s definitely been fun,” Searcy said.
A refresher, for any last fans who are returning from the wilderness: the Yellow Jackets, trailing 27-21 in the fourth, had marched down to the Georgia six-yard line with 36 seconds left. Facing third-and-goal, head coach Paul Johnson called 58 Throwback, a toss sweep to Searcy that morphed into a throwback pass to quarterback Justin Thomas.
“Every time I repped it, I threw the ball,” he said.
Yet as Searcy took the toss and drifted off to his right, four Georgia defenders were suddenly flooding toward Thomas. Searcy knew that if Thomas was covered, he should either throw it away or run out of bounds. Instead, seeing a hole open up the middle — in part because of all the defenders who were trailing Thomas — Searcy tucked the ball and made a run for it.
“Everyone asks me how did I feel? What was I thinking diving into the end zone? Honestly, my mind just blanked out,” he says.
Searcy may not remember much when it happened but he certainly hasn’t forgotten the aftermath.
“He’s been getting a lot of love from everybody,” said center Freddie Burden.
The first sign that things would be different, Searcy said, was when his Facebook account crashed. After the game, whenever he tried to switch to a different app on his phone, another message would interrupt him. Searcy estimates he’s picked up more than 800 new followers between Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. He was especially excited when former teammates DeAndre Smelter and Shaq Mason, now with the San Francisco 49ers and New England Patriots, respectively, gave him props on Twitter.
Autographs? When he stepped inside the elevator to his North Avenue apartment complex after the game, a pair of passengers were already asking for his signature. His roommates, twins Lance Austin and Lawrence Austin, haven’t exactly aided in his anonymity.
“We might go out [and] I might joke around and say, `Hey, do you know that’s Qua Searcy?'” said Lawrence.
“We could be anywhere. We could be in the locker room where everybody knows who he is. `Hey, do you know The Leap? [Fakes pointing to Qua] He jumped over the guy from Georgia to win the game.'”
Lance Austin, of course, had his own indelible moment in Georgia Tech history, a blocked field-goal return for a touchdown against Florida State in 2015 that’s since been enshrined as the “Miracle on Techwood Drive.” That has led to some good-natured ribbing inside the trio’s apartment.
“He has a little trash talk on Lance — `I made a play against Georgia.’ It’s all been pretty good,” said Lawrence.
Until the holiday break, Searcy hadn’t been back to his hometown of Barnesville, 60 miles south of Atlanta, since the play. Yet the pride in “The Leap” has rippled back there as well. His parents, Walter and Amanda, like to record videos of themselves watching the play on their DVR. Searcy has even managed to get some Barnesville natives to cross the color line.
“People have been commenting on my Facebook that although they’re Georgia fans, it feels good to have a hometown person score the game-winning touchdown,” he said.
That hasn’t been a problem on The Flats, where the response to “The Leap” has been immediate and unequivocal. At his first class after the Georgia game, a Monday gathering of POL 2101 in Clough Commons, Searcy received a standing ovation from his classmates.
“It was 8 a.m. And my professor [Georgia state senator Michael Polak, a Georgia Tech grad], he was wearing a No. 1 jersey. He actually took a picture with me,” Searcy said.
Photo ops, selfies, pictures with fans’ kids — they’ve all been part of his new reality. The adulation has come in some unexpected places, too. Recently Searcy accompanied his girlfriend to a middle-school play in Conyers, Ga., where her sister was performing. During the intermission, they were whisked from their seats.
“We were sitting in the third row. I guess the kids saw us once the lights cut on. When they had a break they asked one of the instructors, was it me? They asked if I could come backstage,” Searcy recalled.
Which is how Qua Searcy, legend of “The Leap,” had an impromptu photo op with some awestruck pre-teens.
Butker knows the feeling. Two years ago in Athens, he drilled a game-tying 53-yard field goal at the end of regulation in a 30-24 overtime win over the Bulldogs. He recalls a fan at Fan Day telling him it was the second-greatest moment of his life besides his child being born.
Butker knows all about the recognition that’s now enveloping Searcy and his advice is simple.
“Stay humble,” Butker said. “Just keep your head down and keep working hard. That one play was defined because of all the stuff you did in the offseason.”
“Qua knows. He’s a humble kid,” said Burden.
Searcy insists the adulation hasn’t grown old, nor has he grown tired of talking about “The Leap.” But with the TaxSlayer Bowl coming up on New Year’s Eve, he’s hungry to get back on the field and create more highlights for himself. He’d also like to continue a strong finish to his redshirt sophomore season; Searcy also ripped off a 60-yard touchdown run against Virginia, his first score of the season.
“I’m just excited to be able to play again. I think we’ve prepared well. We’re just ready to go get a win,” Searcy said.
As he finished his thought, Thomas walked past and patted him on the shoulder.
“The Leap of Faith!” Thomas announced.