ATLANTA (AP) Justin Thomas threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Deon Hill with 23 seconds remaining, and Georgia Tech avoided a huge upset after blowing a 25-point lead, beating Georgia Southern 42-38 on Saturday.
Thomas' fourth TD pass of the game - by a team known for its triple-option running attack - kept the Yellow Jackets (3-0) from a hugely embarrassing loss to a state school they were playing for the first time.
Georgia Southern (1-2) scored 28 straight points after trailing 35-10 at halftime, putting the Eagles in position to beat a major-conference team for the second year in a row. They upset Florida last season.
But Georgia Tech's Jamal Golden forced a fumble that gave his team the ball with 4:12 remaining. The Yellow Jackets drove for the winning score.
On third-and-7 at the 13, Thomas avoided a blitz and got off the scoring pass to Hill.
Georgia Southern, in the first year of its transition to college football's top division, has now taken two Atlantic Coast Conference teams to the wire but come up short both times. In the opener, the Eagles squandered a 20-10 lead in the fourth quarter and lost to North Carolina State 24-23.
This one will hurt even more, coming against a team less than 200 miles from their Statesboro campus.
Thomas completed only 11 of 24 passes, but sure made the most of those that were caught. He finished with 188 yards through the air, in addition to leading Georgia Tech with 137 yards rushing.
His Georgia Southern counterpart, Kevin Ellison, threw for 164 yards and a touchdown, ran for 107 yards and another score, and led an option game that finished with 536 yards after dominating the final two quarters. But, according to coach Willie Fritz, Ellison sustained an injured shoulder in the fourth quarter and had to come out of the game.
Favian Upshaw, who had played sparingly in the first half, was on the field for the crucial turnover when it looked as though the Eagles would drive for the clinching score.
Georgia Tech looked unstoppable in the first half.
Led by Thomas, who at one point had a quarterback rating of 348.8, the Yellow Jackets scored on their first five possessions. Thomas had a 5-yard touchdown run on the third snap of the game, then hooked up with Zach Laskey on a 12-yard touchdown pass, Darren Waller on a 4-yard score, and DeAndre Smelter for a 57-yard TD.
Many gold-clad Georgia Tech fans appeared to head home early on a sweltering afternoon, apparently convinced the Yellow Jackets would coast to victory.
Boy, what a comeback - and finish - they missed.
An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against Georgia Tech's Paul Davis, on a play he wasn't even involved in, got Georgia Southern out of a deep hole on its opening possession and sparked the comeback. Ellison scored on a 32-yard run to cut the deficit to 35-17.
The Eagles were just getting warmed up.
Matt Breida had a 2-yard touchdown run, Ellison hooked up with B.J. Johnson on a 68-yard score, and L.A. Ramsby took it in from 11 yards out with 10:46 remaining in the game. A 2-point conversion completed the 28-0 outburst, which put the Eagles ahead for the first time.
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