Nov. 10, 2012
By Jon Cooper
The Phoenix is a mythological bird, which toward the end of its life builds a nest of twigs and other incendiary material then ignites the nest, burning it and itself to ashes. It is then reborn from those ashes, regaining its majestic form, taking flight and beginning the cycle anew.
There probably wasn’t much need to fill-in Georgia Tech fans who haven’t heard about the Phoenix. They have been watching their own version of it all season with their football team.
“I’ve never heard of it. It does fit us, though, now that you mention it,” said sophomore Jamal Golden, with a laugh.
Golden had 229 yards on seven kickoff returns, including a 100-yard return for a touchdown to start the second half that sparked Georgia Tech to a come-from-behind 68-50 win over North Carolina Saturday afternoon at Kenan Stadium.
The Phoenix perfectly fits this team, which was supposed to be dead after dropping four of five games to end September and start October. That slide was enough to doom defensive coordinator Al Groh.
Following a bye week, then a win over Boston College, the undertakers were again making preparations to bury the team after a 41-17 home loss to Brigham Young.
Once the Yellow Jackets crashed and burned against the Cougars, all eyes following the ACC turned their attention elsewhere. They probably should have kept a closer watch on those ashes.
The Jackets, fresh off a thrashing of Maryland and its fourth-ranked rushing and seventh-ranked total defense last weekend, put another whuppin’ on another respected defense, again on the road. This time they put up enough points to leave fans wondering if Brian Gregory, not Paul Johnson, was going to do the post-game press conference.
Tech’s 68-50 win over North Carolina and Virginia’s 41-40 win over Miami in Charlottesville has given the Yellow Jackets life in the Coastal Division race. They are not only still alive for the Coastal Division championship and a berth in the ACC Championship game, but they have become a major player in that race.
Tech has simply never stopped fighting.
“It’s handling adversity,” said Golden. “Everything is not going to go great. When something goes bad you just have to fight back.”
The Jackets fought back from a first half that saw three ties and three lead changes, the last one coming with 27 seconds left in the first half that put Carolina in front up, 29-28.
Of course, coming in, few would have imagined the track meet that would ensue. Not with North Carolina’s defense, which ranked third in the ACC and 19th in the nation against the run and a pass defense that led the conference with 13 interceptions. With the extra week to prepare, it seemed like checkmate for Georgia Tech.
That put the kibosh on another myth — the one about how teams, given enough time, can slow Georgia Tech’s Spread Option offense.
The Jackets had 587 yards of total offense, with 379 coming on the ground, gaining an average of 5.7 yards per rush. They added 208 yards through the air, with Durham (NC) native Vad Lee throwing for 169 of them, including a 32-yard leaping catch in triple coverage by A-Back Robert Godhigh. Godhigh, who had three touchdowns in his entire three seasons at Tech, scored three touchdowns in the third quarter alone.
“You know, according to the paper, we weren’t supposed to [do much], because they had two weeks to prepare for us,” said Golden. “It was kind of back-and-forth at the beginning. Then the third quarter was our quarter. We kind of took over, we got some turnovers. We just put it together, special teams, on offense and the defense, we all put it together. That’s what you need to do, come together.”
Tech outscored Carolina, 30-14 in the frame, shattering yet another myth. The Tar Heels had owned the third quarter this season, outscoring their opponents, 89-23, allowing only a kickoff return by Virginia Tech, a running touchdown by Miami, a passing touchdown by NC State, and a field goal by Duke.
In the third quarter Saturday, the Yellow Jackets got one of each.
It started with the Golden’s return.
The sophomore, who returned Tech’s first kickoff for a touchdown in 14 years two weeks ago against BYU, made it two in 14 days. He took kicker Casey Barth’s kickoff at the goal line at the right corner, and broke to his left. He found an alley at his own 15, turned the corner and took it upfield. Golden used Zach Laskey’s block at the Carolina 20 to sealed off the final Tar Heel and cruised home.
“The return was actually designed this time, unlike the first one,” he said with a laugh. “Everybody got their blocks perfect then when I broke through the first line I had block downfield and that was kind of the home run block. It was a great feeling while I was running and I was just ready to go celebrate with my teammates.”
While the lead only lasted 19 seconds, Tech would respond, grinding out a 10-play, 70-yard drive to regain the lead for good. That drive would begin a run of 24 unanswered-points by the Jackets that extended the lead to 58-36. The defense was instrumental in the run, as Izaan Cross intercepted a pass on Carolina’s first drive. On the next drive the Jackets held the Heels on 4th-and-10. Then they forced a punt. Each time the Jackets got the ball back they added on.
Golden feels the spark provided by special teams was a key to the quarter.
“It was big,” he said. “Special teams set up the offense on the beginning of any drive, it doesn’t matter if it’s a kickoff return or punt. It sets the tone. You want to be successful on any of those special teams to get the drive started.”
The offense finished what the special teams started and now the Jackets find themselves in a position where their next game, Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium against Duke takes on great importance. Certainly greater than just about anyone had expected only two weeks ago.
“We were kind of down in the conference. This win really puts us up, kind of at the top of the conference,” Golden said. “We just have to go in next week against Duke and handle our business. That would be an even better feeling if we beat Duke next week.
“It doesn’t matter what anybody else says,” he added. “We’ve just got to believe in ourselves and do what we know we can do.”
Note 2: Golden broke a Georgia Tech single-game record for kickoff return yards (230).