By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
For all the memorable moments in Georgia Tech’s first ACC victory under new head coach Geoff Collins, and there were so many that it’s difficult to summarize the Yellow Jackets’ 28-21 overtime win at Miami, Tariq Carpenter boiled down perfectly a game that will be remembered for the way the Jackets battled, battled and battled.
The ever-pleasant junior safety from tiny Ludowici, a teeny-tiny village in Long County within radio range of Savannah, writ large when he walked in to meet with media after the Jackets mastered the mayhem in Hard Rock Stadium. His constant smile belies his battle element.
Before he was even settled to take questions, he said to the room, “How are you all doing? It was a good one, wasn’t it?”
The first part — appropriately a question — was perfect because it was impossible to run line items on the game and explain how Tech won the game on tangibles. There were so many unusual plays, penalties, injuries and craziness that you had to scratch your head.
The second part was a question, too, and that was only near perfect because he added the “wasn’t it?” part.
It was a good one, period. Leave off the question mark. That’d make that part perfect.
VIDEO: Miami highlights
The Jackets are undergoing a historic transformation from the distinct option-oriented offense of retired head coach Paul Johnson, and their roster is remarkably young. Three of their mere 11 seniors – all on offense — have been lost to season-ending injuries. That’s made them younger still.
So the Jackets flooded the field after it was over and there were celebrations aplenty in the locker room, most memorably when defensive line coach Larry Knight led a rally group talking about how late defensive lineman Brandon Adams – who passed away unexpectedly last spring – was with the Jackets from above, steering them to victory.
LONG. LIVE. BIG B!!!!!! pic.twitter.com/9waX1QcNh4
— ⚔️COACH KNIGHT JR ⚔️ (@sirknight95) October 19, 2019
The hallmark of the game was persistence. Persistence because there were so many corners in that game where the Jackets found themselves stuck in an intersection and could have turned off.
No wonder Collins, as he made his way into Hard Rock Stadium’s visitors’ interview room, said to Georgia Tech staffer Simit Shah while everybody set up cameras and recorders, “Hello, Simit. That was fun. That was fun.”
Oh, yes it was, all the moreso because renovation projects create a universe where it’s so often uncomfortable to match what you expect to see with what’s happening.
And then Collins said to the writing/radio/televising public, “That was fun. Unbelievable resolve from our guys. The way they played, they attacked, they stayed in the moment . . . that was a complete offense, defense and special teams game. It was a complete offense, defense, special teams victory. So, [I] just told them I’m really proud of them.”
If you were wearing a heart rate monitor during that game, you’d have been summoned to the doctor’s office multiple times.
The game started off so beautifully. On Miami’s third offensive play, freshman linebacker Demetrius Knight – who was recruited as a high school quarterback from Locust Grove – came off the left edge, drilled Miami quarterback N’Kosi Perry and popped the ball loose in the end zone.
And then redshirt freshman Ja’Quon Griffin of Rome plopped on it for a touchdown.
Good times. That was the first time this season the Jackets turned a takeaway into a turnover. So, they celebrated like crazy, so crazy that they got a penalty. Sometimes, you take one for the overall ethic. Collins asks his players to cut loose. They did.
“We challenged them to not worry about the scoreboard; just play. Celebrate with one another. That first 15-yard penalty [for Griffin’s post-touchdown spike] was totally on me . . . “ he said. “I told them to just cut it loose and play hard.”
There were reasons to worry, like when the Jackets made a stop on Miami’s third-and-5 from the 6-yard line only to give the Hurricanes a first-and-goal from the 1 because of a pass interference call – one of the Yellow Jackets’ uncharacteristic nine penalties for 82 yards. Miami scored soon to make it 7-7.
That was not one of the game’s three signature plays, but it wasn’t long before the Jackets made the second one.
When Tech was facing fourth-and-7 from the Miami 41 in the second quarter, while trailing 14-7, everybody had a thought. The Jackets had put in a punt fake in practice the week before, and a situation presented itself.
The Jackets were out of field-goal range, and a turn of possession at that field position was so-so. So the Jackets faked it.
Punter Pressley Harvin III took the snap, lowered it in his hands as if to punt, but then threw down the right sideline, a beautiful pass that gunner Nathan Cottrell hauled in around the 12-yard-line and ran in for a score.
“Literally, by far, the best play I’ve ever had in my life. Oh, yeah,” said Harvin. “Coach Collins put it in earlier in the week. I already knew the corner on Cottrell was going to go ahead and press him and leave him out. I took a look, just threw it up. He came down with the ball.
“I was a little nervous walking out there, so I just prayer up to God and ‘Big B’ [Adams] and all the angels that are up there watching over me.”
VIDEO: ACC Plays of the Week
The teams were tied at 21 at halftime, and from there it was critical for the Jackets that they did a fine job of keeping the ball out of the ‘Canes hands.
Running back Jordan Mason ran 20 times for a career-high 141 yards, and he thumped in the second half and overtime, where he had 91 of those yards.
“My offensive line . . . I don’t know man, it was just different,” Mason said. “They came in with their heads, they said from the last game they were ready to block for me . . . and they did that.”
The game came down to overtime because Antwan Owens blocked a Miami field goal with 26 seconds to go in regulation, and in overtime Mason’s 22-yard run set up his 1-yard TD score for the 28-21 lead.
But the Canes still had a chance.
It came down to fourth-and-4 from the Tech 8. Miami opted to pass to tight end Brevin Jordan in the right flat. It was a good idea. Jordan might be the best collegiate tight end in the country.
But Georgia Tech’s third and final signature play of the game came courtesy of Carpenter, who was in coverage when Jordan caught the pass wide right.
Carpenter came up and hit the future NFL tight end in the open field, making Jordan spin and put an arm down at about the 4-yard line.
Confusion ensued. First came a lengthy review to determine if the spot was correct. When the replay official determined that the ball was in the right place, a measurement followed.
The chain gang came out. The ball was an inch or two short of a first down.
“Can I be honest? That whole thing was a blur. I mean, golly, right? Since I was probably 7 years old, the whole forward progress rule, it’s never jived with me, especially being a defensive dude,” Collins said. “He went backwards on his own, and then his elbow hit the ground, so I don’t know.
“I’m glad the right spot was made because our guys fought and fought and competed to get a really good ACC win and represent the 404, the city of Atlanta.”
And the locker room went crazy after the game.
“Coach Collins was lit, standing there talking about ATL, ATL,” Carpenter said. “It was more just for all the people up in Atlanta, the Yellow Jacket nation. It’s been a real tough start, and I felt like everybody back home needed this one.”