Sept. 21, 2013
By Jon Cooper
There was no doubt that the North end zone, and the noise emanating from it, via the Georgia Tech student section, played a role in the Yellow Jackets’ 28-20 win over North Carolina on Saturday afternoon at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
Quarterback Vad Lee said afterward.
“This is one of the loudest games I’ve been a part of at GT,” said Lee. “North Carolina does a lot of communicating at the line, so the fans came up big today. I tweeted on Thursday, ‘GT, come out loud and proud’ and they did.”
But there also appeared to be forces, quiet forces, coming out of the south end zone that did their part.
Whether it was good karma or bad juju — depending on your point of view — or simply timely plays and a good case for the effectiveness of instant replay, the south end zone was the scene of key plays in the victory.
Two rulings were especially important.
The first came on Georgia Tech’s first touchdown, a one-yard plunge by B-Back David Sims, who was ruled to have broken the plane before fumbling the ball with Tech trailing 13-0. The second came on a Lee fumble at the end of a third-quarter run, with Tech looking to build on a 21-20 lead. The ruling on the field of fumble was overturned, allowing Tech to keep possession on the way to the game’s final score.
Sims’ play came with less than four minutes elapsed in the second quarter, with Tech trailing 13-0. The Jackets had already turned the ball over once and struggled against a fired-up North Carolina defense. The Jackets had lost Lee four plays earlier, as he’d gotten the wind knocked out of him on a vicious hit by Carolina DB Brian Walker. With redshirt freshman Justin Thomas leading the drive, Tech had seen first-and-goal at the nine turn into fourth-and-goal at the one. Following a timeout, Thomas brought Tech to the line.
He barely got a hand-off to Sims, who chose to go airborne. He was hit at the goal line by safety Tre Boston and the ball came out. Carolina safety Dominique Green picked up the ball and returned it to the 24. But on the field “touchdown” was the call. Video review confirmed the ruling.
“[The officials] got the tape and got to run it back and look,” said Head Coach Paul Johnson. “David’s was probably bang-bang but they called it a touchdown so they probably didn’t have enough to over-turn it.”
Sims wasn’t sure about the play but was sure he could have made the point moot had he handled things differently on his end.
“I didn’t really know. When they said it was a touchdown I was thankful,” he said. “I probably should have just run through the guy but I was thinking, ‘Try to get over the top,’ because I figured they were going to go low. That was something I should have done differently.”
The score helped Georgia Tech do things differently. While the Jackets allowed a score on the ensuing drive to again fall behind by 13, they would not allow Carolina to score again. That credit goes as much to the defense as to the bullish offensive line.
“We just had to take their best punch and try to roll with it,” said Sims, who rambled for a career-best 99 yards, just missing the century mark for the second time in his career — he also came up a yard short at last year’s Hyundai Sun Bowl against USC. “We knew that once we got going it would be hard for them to stop us and that’s what ended up happening in the second half.”
In the fourth quarter, the Jackets again benefited from a video review, this time on a Lee scramble on a second-and-14 play at the Carolina 20. He took off left and after an eight-yard run, got taken down by the Tar Heels’ Kareem Martin. The ball came loose and bounced into the hands of the Tar Heels, who took off the other way.
While a fumble was originally ruled, neither Lee nor Johnson was overly concerned, confident that the video showed otherwise, which it did.
“I kind of just laughed it off because I knew I was down, for sure,” Lee said. “The dude kind of stripped the ball when I was on the ground. I knew that it was our ball.”
“He was on the ground when the ball came out,” said Johnson. “I never sweated when I saw that one.”
Two plays later, Sims was in the end zone and Tech never sweated the rest of the way.
The Jackets dominated the remainder of the fourth quarter, getting an interception by corner Louis Young off a Jemea Thomas deflection then a punt following a three-and-out. They’d run the final 6:27 off the clock following the punt and the hard-earned win, one in which Tech overcame a pair of 13-point deficits was in the books.
“We never have any doubt,” said A-Back Robert Godhigh, who ran for a game-high 100 yards, torching UNC for the second straight season. “We just always say, ‘Someone has to make a play. Someone has to turn the game around, get momentum.’ That’s what we did.”
Lee believes as much in the good karma coming out of both end zones.
“To be great sometimes you have to have a little luck to have a great season,” Lee said. “We hope that we continue to get plays and make big plays.”
Johnson put more stock in his team’s earning good fortune — like a 40:30-19:22 edge in time of possession — than the idea of having gotten breaks.
“I don’t know if they’re breaks,” he said. “Clearly Vad Lee was on the ground. A break would be like the first series, when we threw the ball to Corey Dennis on the sideline and we don’t get a pass interference call. We got some breaks but it would be a holding call when they score a 95-yard touchdown pass. But both fumbles, David’s might have been close, but Vad’s wasn’t even close. I mean he was lying on the ground when the ball came out.”
The long play to which Johnson referred came on the Tar Heels’ second play of the third quarter — with UNC going north to south, of course — and was an 82-yard completion from Renner to WR Ryan Switzer, who caught a slant at midfield, split two defenders then outraced Tech defenders to the end zone, only to see the play called back for holding. The Jackets forced a punt three plays later and nine plays after getting the ball, took the lead for good, 21-20, on a Vad Lee one-yard run.
The south end zone had actually been troublesome even when good things happened to North Carolina, as following their dominating six-play, 58-yard touchdown drive to open the game, they went for two, but had the play broken up.
“If it’s there, take it. If it’s not, don’t. Line back up and kick it,” said UNC Head Coach Larry Fedora. “It was there and we didn’t execute. The guy was open.”
Regardless, the missed conversion attempt left Carolina chasing a point all afternoon and became most glaring in the third quarter, when Tech took the lead. The Yellow Jacket defense made sure that chase was futile.
Georgia Tech has a short week to celebrate a character-building win, with Virginia Tech coming in Thursday. They get back to work Sunday, knowing they survived the best shot of a potent North Carolina team, some uncharacteristically sloppy play, and the elements — a driving rain, which contributed to the sloppy play.
“We just had to push through,” said Lee. “We did a lot of unsound things, turning over the ball and fumbling everywhere. We had a lot of fumbles. I’m sure we’re going to get chewed out tomorrow when we watch film. It isn’t going to be pretty but it’s always great to watch film when you get a win.”