Sept. 4, 2012
By Matt Winkeljohn
Were you to go through the checklist with just 44 seconds left Monday night at Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech would have come up aces.
Heading into the season, a no-frills prognosticator would say that for the Yellow Jackets to improve not only from last season but the last two that they would need to be: better on defense, better on special teams and better throwing the ball.
Check, check and check*.
The football fates, however, reversed field on the Jackets in a 20-17 overtime loss. It was a bitter way to begin a season, none the less because the winner in each of the last seven Tech-Tech meetings has gone on to represent the Coastal Division in the ACC Championship Game.
Although Georgia Tech’s running attack was held in check by their standards by Virginia Tech (the Jackets rushed 55 times for 192 yards), the Jackets were well positioned to escape Lane Stadium with what would have been the third-biggest win since Paul Johnson became coach.
They arrived in that position chiefly on the backs of their defense, and the fact that Virginia Tech’s much-ballyhooed special teams got the worst of their match-up.
Quarterback Tevin Washington played like a senior while engineering a 13-play, 72-yard drive to push the Jackets to a 17-14 lead with 44 seconds left in regulation. Washington, who did not attempt a pass in the third quarter after completing 4-of-7 in the first half, completed 4-of-5 on the Jackets’ final drive in regulation. Georgia Tech chewed 7:02 off the clock.
His 10-yard touchdown pass to crossing A-back Deon Hill was nice enough, but not nearly as pretty as the play that put the Jackets in that position.
Facing fourth-and-6 a the Virginia Tech 37 while trailing 14-10, Georgia Tech appeared to mishandle the clock. About 20 seconds ran off while the punting squad took the field. Then, a not-so-surprising thing happened: Johnson turned Washington and the offense around and sent the Jackets back out.
Fail there, and the game would have for all intents have been over.
Instead, Washington scrambled right and found A-back B.J. Bostic down the right sideline – with the breath of three close-knit Hokies upon him – for 19 yards. Talk about squeezing the ball into a tight space . . .
That the Jackets were after Hill’s score in position to win with a modest 17 points on the board was a tribute to the defense.
Coordinator Al Groh’s Jackets were a bit slug-footed early, but after allowing 80 yards and a 5-yard touchdown pass from Logan Thomas to tight end Eric Martin on Virginia Tech’s first two possessions, they turned stingy.
Virginia Tech’s next seven possessions, through the end of the third quarter, netted 50 yards.
Also in that time, the first Georgia Tech score was set up by a botched punt snap by Virginia Tech, and the Hokies missed a 42-yard field goal. At the end of the first half, Sean Poole punted the Hokies back to their 1-yard line with a 50-yard kick.
There were no returns of significance. The Hokies, in fact, did not muster a punt return yard, and Scully sent two of his four kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks, a third to the goal-line, and the other to the Virginia Tech 3.
David Walkosky’s first game on the job was good. Georgia Tech’s new special teams coach had his units ready to roll.
There was, unfortunately, still time on the clock after the Jackets went up 17-14.
The Jackets had seriously impaired the Virginia Tech running game, holding the Hokies to 96 yards on 35 carries, and the home team had converted just 5-of-16 third downs – a big improvement over Georgia Tech’s third down work a season earlier. The Hokies also failed on two fourth down tries.
But they connected on their fourth.
First, while working quickly, Thomas found wide receiver Corey Fuller over the middle for 22 yards to the Virginia Tech 47. The Jackets bowed up, and the Hokies were staring at fourth-and-4 at Georgia Tech’s 47 when they called timeout with 13 seconds left.
This play would be the game.
The Hokies needed a field goal to tie. Even though they had two timeouts left, they not only had to get a first down on the next play, but probably needed to move into field goal position on the same play.
That’s what happened.
Thomas found Fuller over the middle again, and while multiple Jackets had a shot at dropping him well short of field goal range in the instant after he caught the ball, Fuller snaked his way down the middle of the field for a 23-yard gain to the Georgia Tech 24.
Listed as 6-feet-2, 196 pounds, Fuller pulled two or three Jacket defenders the final 7 or 8 yards to set up a 41-yard field goal try by Cody Journell, whose career long is 42.
Another Virginia Tech timeout, with six seconds left.
Although Journell made 14-of-17 field goals last season, including his last 10, he missed from 38 earlier. This young man had weight upon him. Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer had taken him back on the team after kicking him off the squad in the off season because of his involvement in a breaking-and-entering charge to which he pleaded guilty.
Some Hokies fans second guessed that move. There was no doubting the kick; it was easily good.
Georgia Tech had the ball first in overtime, and Godhigh’s 11-yard reception was good for a first down. Three plays later, though, Washington did not make a senior play.
Although B-back David Sims was open back to the right, Washington may not have seen him as he was flushed left on third-and-6 From the Virginia Tech 10. Off balance, he threw one up when throwing it away or even taking a sack would’ve made Paul Johnson much happier.
At minimum there, Georgia Tech had to get off a field goal try. Instead, Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller intercepted. Washington completed 10-of-15 passes for 96 yards, a score and a pick.
Six plays later, after the Jackets stopped Logan Thomas three times from the 1-yard line, the Hokies kicked the winning field goal.
The last card pulled was a joker.
It was not entirely unlike Georgia Tech’s last visit to Blacksburg. In that one, Washington led a sterling touchdown drive some time after Josh Nesbitt went down with a broken arm. That forced a tie in 2010, but the Hokies won that one with an even later kickoff return.
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