Jan. 1, 2012
By Matt Winkeljohn
It seems clear by now that if there are college football bowl gods, they are not fans of Georgia Tech.
You don’t send a strong-legged kicker on the field for a potential game-winning field goal into the wind only to see it kicked easily long enough but slither just wide right as regulation ticks away . . . have your opponent force overtime with a fourth-and-14 score . . . watch a 14-point fourth-quarter lead drift away and become a loss . . . if you’re on the right side of fate.
“We had the ball twice with a chance to go up three touchdowns [in the fourth quarter],” A-back Roddy Jones said after Tech lost the Hyundai Sun Bowl 30-27 in overtime to Utah on Saturday.
“They had to have a lot of things go right, and they did.”
That’s understatement, although it wasn’t just at the end where things went sideways for the Jackets.
At the end of a great stay in El Paso, there was nothing special about Tech Saturday as the Jackets missed three field goals and surrendered a killer punt return late that gave Utah a short field for the chance to force overtime.
The Jackets (8-5) had their way with the Utes (8-5) over much of the first half, but trailed 10-7 at halftime in part because Justin Moore missed a pair of 42-yard field goal tries (his career long is 41) and quarterback Tevin Washington lost a fumble.
Beat up and out of whack with injuries to guard Omoregie Uzzi, B-back David Sims and inside linebacker Justin Burnett, and the suspensions of tackle Phil Smith and cornerback Louis Young, the Jackets were nonetheless scrapping with five starters down.
Isn’t all that a function of some sort of fate, too?
Preston Lyons wasted no time feeling sorry for himself. In his final game for Tech, the senior B-back rushed for more than 100 yards in the first half alone. He scored as well.
Utah slowed the Jackets’ ground game in the third quarter, but Tech turned the game anyway with 17 straight points for a 24-10 lead.
Utah’s next play from scrimmage went the other way when inside linebacker Quayshawn Nealy, playing extensively inside along with Daniel Drummond because the Jackets’ leading tackler (Burnett) was absent, picked off a pass and returned it 74 yards for a TD and a 24-10 lead.
The Jackets forced back-to-back three-and-outs on Utah’s next two possessions and you’d have to say things were looking good, even though the Utes soon bombed a 55-yard punt to flip the field.
As the fourth quarter began to bleed away, Tech’s six-game bowl losing streak looked on the verge of becoming history.
The game, though, would turn again. The wrong way.
With a 24-17 lead, and Utah burning timeouts as the Jackets had the ball around the two-minute mark, Washington optioned right on a third-and-4. If converted, a first down would put the game away.
Problem was, Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei somehow mashed his way from the back side of the play and hit Washington from behind to force an errant toss.
Roddy Jones scrambled to recover the ball at the Tech 20.
That hardly mattered.
The combination of Sean Poole’s 35-yard punt and a 31-yard punt by Utah set the Utes up at Tech’s 24.
Four plays later, a Tech stop would end it.
Problem was, John Hays — the Utah quarterback who’d struggled often — lofted a pass down the left sideline that DeVonte Christopher caught while defended by Young’s replacement, Jemea Thomas. Christopher carried the ball across the goal line just inside the pylon.
Washington and the Jackets mustered up a valiant effort after that, even with a short clock.
The Tech quarterback ran four times and completed a couple passes as the Jackets moved 49 yards to Utah’s 31.
Problem was, the ball stayed dead straight rather than drawing slightly left and between the uprights.
Then, 0:00 and overtime.
Tech ball first. Hill went wide open down the sideline for a potential touchdown.
Problem was, Washington was under duress had to unload the ball short before seeing Hill.
Then, on third-and-2, Washington was swamped trying to run right and the Jackets settled for a Moore field goal although Johnson thought about it first.
Utah countered with a touchdown on John White IV’s third-and-goal thrust from the 8 behind a devastating block from his fullback.
Everybody was sad afterward, seniors likely moreso.
“We didnt’ really talk about the game much, just how much we appreciated each other,” Jones said. “It was kind of a mixture of talking about how much we’re going to miss each other and how much we appreciate what [Tech and coaches] gave us, and an apology for not getting it done.”
The bowl skid, which began with a loss to Utah, grew with another. Tech’s head coach was short of words.
“Coach Johnson just mainly said . . . the guys coming back have to use it as motivation,” Jones said. “Down the stretch we just didn’t make plays. We had a lot of opportunities. Some of the stuff that has been hurting us all year really hurt us in the fourth quarter.
“He really didn’t know what else to say.”
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