BLACKSBURG, Va. – Georgia Tech’s season opener Monday night dredged up two of the most painful memories of the 2011 season.
Late-game shortcomings and overtime loss. The combination produced a 20-17 overtime loss to Virginia Tech. It’s the Yellow Jackets’ second consecutive overtime loss, following the Sun Bowl defeat to Utah in December. That game was also sent to overtime by late scores by the opposition.
“I thought we got the momentum late,” coach Paul Johnson said. “To their credit, they came back and took it back. They did what they had to do to put the game into overtime and then won in overtime. Kind of gift-wrapped it for ‘em in overtime a little bit.”
Monday night, before a national-television audience, Virginia Tech game won in the first overtime round with a 17-yard field goal by kicker Cody Journell. It followed the Jackets’ opening possession of overtime, when quarterback Tevin Washington threw an interception by throwing a risky pass on third-and-6 from the Hokies’ 10-yard line as he was being tackled to the ground.
“I was trying to throw the ball away,” Washington said.
It was an unfortunate end for Washington, who led Tech on a breathtaking 72-yard touchdown drive on its final possession of regulation that included a 19-yard pass to convert a fourth down. He swung a 10-yard pass to A-back Deon Hill for a score that put the Jackets up 17-14 with 44 seconds remaining.
“He made some great plays on the last drive in regulation,” Johnson said.
It called to mind Georgia Tech’s final drive of the 2010 loss to the Hokies at Lane Stadium, when Washington replaced starter Joshua Nesbitt after he broke his arm. In that game, Washington drove the Jackets to the Hokies’ 16-yard line before throwing an interception into the end zone with seconds to play. At that point, it seemed that Washington might gain his redemption and he was atypically exuberant after the touchdown pass.
Said Hill, “They were playing a little man (coverage) and we were running a little pick route to get one of us open on both sides on the crosses, so Tevin found me and we were able to score good blocking up front and everybody did their job.”
However, after Hill’s go-ahead touchdown, Tech surrendered 51 yards in the final 44 seconds, resulting in a 41-yard field goal by Journell as regulation time expired.
“We missed a couple tackles, and they did what they had to do,” Johnson said.
Said Hill, “There was no doubt in my mind that we were going to win (after the touchdown), but things happen, I guess. We counted our chickens too early.”
The final Hokies score in regulation bore unpleasant familiarity. In 2011, when Georgia Tech lost five of its last seven games, the Jackets were outscored 54-17 in the fourth quarter and overtime of those games.
Regarding its ACC title-game aspirations, the loss places the Jackets in straits that, if not dire, are hardly enviable. Barring the unlikelihood of three Coastal Division teams finishing 7-1 in league play, Georgia Tech’s best chance is to run the table to finish 7-1 and then hope the Hokies lose twice in their final seven games.
“There’s absolutely nothing we can do but play football,” defensive end Izaan Cross said. “That’s what we’re going to do. We have plenty of games left. Maybe something will happen, maybe Virginia Tech will get caught slipping. You never know what happens. We’ve just got to continue playing our best and see what happens.”
Johnson fell to 1-4 against the Hokies. The four losses have been by a combined 24 points. The Jackets have lost three in a row in Blacksburg and five of the past six overall to Virginia Tech.
“We really struggled to start the game,” Johnson said. “We missed some reads. We were like popcorn. We settled down a little bit, but to their credit, they did a good job of never letting us get in much rhythm.”
The game did not start well, as the Hokies flipped the field on the opening possession, forced a three-and-out on Georgia Tech’s first series, then went 56 yards in 12 plays for the game’s opening touchdown with little resistance. Quarterback Logan Thomas, who had terrorized the Jackets in the Virginia Tech win last November, converted two third downs on the drive and then flipped a 5-yard touchdown pass to tight end Eric Martin.
Georgia Tech tied the game at 7 after receiving a giant special-teams break from the Hokies, a mishandled punt snap that gave the Jackets the ball at the Hokies 24-yard line. A-back Robbie Godhigh capitalized, breaking three tackles to score off a toss on a 12-yard scoring run. It was the first career touchdown and just the third career carry for the former walk-on who earned a starting job in preseason camp.
Defensive coordinator Al Groh’s unit began to stiffen thereafter, not permitting the Hokies into the Georgia Tech red zone over the next seven possessions.
The trouble for the Jackets was that the offense was having similar, if not greater, difficulty against the stout Hokies defense. Virginia Tech finished 2011 with top-10 results in both yards and points allowed and welcomed nine starters back, eight of whom were on the field Monday night.
The Jackets took a 10-7 lead on the first play of the fourth quarter after sustaining a plodding drive for 56 yards on 15 plays. David Scully’s 34-yard field goal, the first of his career, finished the drive.
Virginia Tech responded with its own 56-yard drive, but it ended with a 38-yard field goal miss by Journell. The Hokies put together a touchdown drive – three plays, 75 yards – followed one possession later for a 14-10 lead.