Georgia Tech will have to wait until next week to vie with Florida State for the ACC championship, so in the meantime the Yellow Jackets picked up an accolade that might mean more to them: a state title.
No. 16 Georgia Tech survived No. 9 Georgia in overtime, 30-24, in Athens for the program’s first victory at Sanford Stadium since 2008. The win meant nothing to the Yellow Jackets’ ACC resume, but it might serve as a springboard heading into their major meeting with the unbeaten Seminoles next weekend.
Georgia Tech looked in control late in the fourth quarter as quarterback Justin Thomas drove the offense into Georgia territory up 21-17. But Thomas fumbled, and the Bulldogs recovered with less than three minutes to play. Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason turned the turnover into a touchdown pass and a 24-21 lead with 18 seconds left. At that point, the Jackets’ shot at a road win seemed all but over.
But Georgia Tech took the ensuing kickoff and drove into the far outskirts of field goal range. That’s where Harrison Butker drilled a 53-yard field goal to send the game into overtime tied 24-24.
The Yellow Jackets quickly scored to open the extra session on Zach Laskey’s third touchdown of the day, but they missed the extra point, leaving the Bulldogs a touchdown and an extra point away from the win. But on Georgia’s ensuing possession, Georgia Tech’s D.J. White picked off Mason at the 9-yard line to seal the win -- and the bragging rights -- for the Jackets.
The end result was salt in the wounds of Georgia fans who’d already suffered plenty of disappointment this week. Missouri’s win over Arkansas on Friday clinched the SEC East title for the Tigers, wrecking Georgia’s hopes for an SEC championship. Still, the Bulldogs’ shot at a New Year’s Six bowl seemed strong prior to Saturday. Their third loss of the season, however, likely vanquishes those dreams, too.
Now coach Mark Richt’s team must deal with another season that’s fallen short of high expectations thanks, in part, to bad luck. The team’s best player, running back Todd Gurley, tore his ACL in his first game back after an NCAA-mandated suspension earlier this month.
But the Bulldogs have been an up-and-down team all season long. They dominated Auburn two weeks after being routed by Florida. They lost to South Carolina yet shut out Missouri 34-0. This team's identity has been a mystery since Day One.
Georgia Tech, meanwhile, entered the 2014 season surrounded by hot-seat talk concerning head coach Paul Johnson. Johnson responded by leading his team to 10 regular-season wins and a berth in the ACC title game. The Yellow Jackets have now beaten Clemson and Georgia in their last two games, and that momentum has made them a viable threat to unbeaten Florida State in Charlotte. Georgia Tech’s defense limited Georgia to 4-of-11 on third downs and forced three turnovers, including the game-sealing pick. Next week we’ll see if they can do the same against Jameis Winston and a Seminoles offense that has yet to play a full four quarters this year.
Most might view Georgia Tech’s win as an upset, but Johnson probably isn’t one of them. "I am so proud of our players,” he told reporters after the game. “They've had that kind of resiliency all year long."
The Yellow Jackets passed their biggest test of the year Saturday. Next week, they’ll try take the next step.