Dec. 7, 2014
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
You don’t have to attend as prestigious an institution of higher learning as Georgia Tech to know that Chapter 13 is one usually filled with disappointment.
For No. 11 Georgia Tech, Chapter 13 of its 2014 season ended with a disappointing 37-35 loss Saturday night to No. 4 Florida State. But this chapter 13 would be more aptly named “How To Make Friends and Influence People” than “Filing For Bankruptcy.”
The Jackets made friends in such far-off places as Forth Worth and Waco, Texas, and Columbus, Ohio, where the TCU Horned Frogs, Baylor Bears and Ohio State Buckeyes look to profit in the final poll off Tech’s making FSU seem vulnerable, yet again. Tech also made friends in Tallahassee, Fla., where Seminoles fans, after their weekly postgame blood-pressure drop, can counter the arguments from Waco, Fort Worth and Columbus by pointing to the quality win.
The Jackets also influenced people. They convinced the Seminoles, who often this season seemed to arrive well after kickoff, to show up on time and play a full 60 minutes.
It’s a good thing the Seminoles did, because they ran into — and for much of the first half, ran after — a determined Georgia Tech team that was determined to end FSU’s 28-game winning streak, which began in 2012 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, and played to the theme of “No Regrets” hammered home all week by head coach Paul Johnson.
“I felt like we had a shot the whole time, from before the game started,” said quarterback Justin Thomas. “We feel like we can play with anybody.”
Thomas led the Jackets with 104 rushing yards, his fourth 100-yard game of the season and threw for 134 yards on 8-of-14 passing with a touchdown.
While he wasn’t as statistically spectacular as his counterpart, Heisman Trophy-winner Jameis Winston (21-of-30, 309, 3 TDs, 0 INTs), Thomas continued to put his stamp on a tremendous debut season as a starter. He showed great efficiency, poise and patience in running the Spread Option, and used superb discretion in running, and out-running, the athletic Seminoles defense.
“I’m just feeling more comfortable in all aspects of the game, in big-time situations,” said Thomas, who will head into Tech’s bowl game with 965 rushing yards in 2014, third-best ever in a season for a GT quarterback and well within reach of becoming only the second to rush for 1,000 in a season. “Just going out there trying to do my best to get the job done.”
But Saturday wasn’t just about Thomas. The combo of battering ram B-Backs Synjyn Days (19 carries, 67 yards, and a career-best three touchdowns), and Zach Laskey (11 carries, 40 yards and a score) were punishing, while the vast array of A-Backs netted 331 rushing yards.
The running game allowed Tech to take a lead three times in the first half, during which they ran on their first 26 plays, then, on play No. 27, hit a 27-yard play-action pass from Thomas to Deon Hill, which set up their third straight score for a 21-14 lead.
But despite running for 214 yards on 35 attempts (6.1 yards per carry) and holding nearly a 2:1 edge in time of possession (19:47 to 10:13), the Jackets were unable to stop FSU (after an opening series punt), nor force any turnovers. When Tech’s offense finally blinked and was forced to punt late in the first half, the Seminoles cashed in and grabbed a 28-21 halftime lead.
Tech would never lead again, although they wouldn’t go quietly. Thomas said Coach Johnson reminded them of their history and to have no regrets.
“Just that we’ve been in this situation before, it wasn’t our first time,” Thomas said. “We get the ball first so we have to go out and get it done.”
“Pretty much as it has been all year long, we never give up, we never know what can happen,” he added. “So we came out, fought hard and fought to the end as we always do, as it has been all year.”
As it had been eight times earlier this year, the Jackets came out of the locker room and stormed down the field. They went 77 yards on 14 running plays, using up nearly 7:00 to tie the game.
The defense also stepped up, limiting FSU to three field goals in the second half, but they never got that game-changing turnover or stop and the nine points proved too much to overcome.
The Jackets punted then lost the ball on downs on consecutive series and suddenly, their ship was fading out of sight.
The possession early in the fourth, where Tech lost the ball on downs was especially disheartening. Down 34-28, with 10:25 to play and facing fourth and five at their own 47, the Jackets went to the air. But Thomas and receiver Darren Waller appeared to get their signals crossed. Waller, who matched his career-high with five catches for 73 yards and a score, went deep and was open but Thomas threw the ball short, where Waller first made his break to get separation.
“It was just a miscommunication,” said Thomas. “He was thinking one thing I was thinking another. We just weren’t on the same page.”
The pair would hook up on a 25-yard score with a little less than two minutes remaining, but FSU recovered the ensuing onside kick and ran out the clock.
On a Championship Saturday filled with blowouts and plenty of garbage time, the Yellow Jackets traded punches with the Seminoles right up until the final 1:47, but, simply weren’t perfect, something they needed to be.
In the end, a Georgia Tech team that has found a way all year couldn’t do so, falling short against a team that has found a way now in each of the last 29 games — a streak tied for the 12th-longest in FBS history.
But Tech will fight another day. They have a bowl game to play and they will be ready to fight.
“Coach said there’s nothing we can do about this one anymore so we just have to move on to the next one and finish the season off strong,” said Thomas. “He told us to keep our heads up. We still have one more to go. Let’s get it done.”
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