Tallahassee — We learned something about Georgia Tech last night/this morning. We learned several things, actually, and not all of them were good. But this part was:
Georgia Tech will fight until the last dog dies.
Georgia Tech will not bend to sentiment, to its own ineptitude, even to a fumble inside the red zone with the game on the line. Georgia Tech will fight to the end even if the end comes way past midnight. Georgia Tech might not be the nation’s best team, but it has as big a heart as anyone.
We flash forward. We flash past the five first-half Florida State touchdowns and the 78-minute delay for lightning. We gloss over the 403 yards the Seminoles amassed in 30 minutes and we move to the fourth quarter, to the bad Josh Nesbitt pitch that became the signature play of a screwball game.
Josh Nesbitt throws the ball away. Florida State’s Nigel Carr picks it up. Josh Nesbitt snatches — no other verb applies, really — it back. Soon Josh Nesbitt scores the touchdown that gives Tech an 11-point lead in a game that had been as tight as a tick all night/morning.
And right there it was: The fire that Paul Johnson didn’t see after the Jackets fooled around and yielded 17 points to Jacksonville State in the opener. The ferocity that wasn’t on display that lost Thursday night in Miami. The heart that might just yield a championship for these Jackets before it’s all said and done.
Said Johnson: “I’m proud of our team. They found a way.”
Yes, yes. We can quibble about the defense, and the lack thereof, and when you yield five touchdown drives and 403 yards in a half it’s more than quibbling. It’s doubts on the order of Willie Martinez doubting. But here was the thing. Trailing five times by a touchdown, Tech answered every time. It never let the game become a Bobby Bowden call-back-the-years testimonial. It kept playing. It kept scoring. And ultimately it claimed the game itself.
You can say Tech will never win anything with a defense like this, but it just won a game of some importance with a defense like this. It won because the defense bowed up, as coaches say, and yielded only nine points in the second half while Tech was scoring 21, and the second half was the one that mattered. The first half, as wild as it was, was just for show. The second half was the measure of these teams, and we saw in the final two periods why FSU is doomed to fail and Tech is dressed for success.
The Jackets are turning into — pardon the expression, Tech folks — a junkyard dog of a team. They nearly blew a game against Clemson but took it back. They nearly were blown out of Doak Campbell Stadium on Papa Bowden Night (unofficial) after a week of uproar and a released statement of support by Florida’s governor — really! — for Bowden on Saturday. But they beat Clemson at the end and they ran down Florida State in the second half because these Jackets are turning into the feisty bunch PJ demanded they become.
The first half was ridiculous: Nine possessions, nine touchdowns. The second half was closer to real football, and the second half was no contest. Tech ran the ball and pushed FSU backward and made, wonder of wonders, the occasional stop, and when finally the game was on the line and the ball was there to be grabbed Josh Nesbitt grabbed it last and tightest.
And now Tech comes home, tired but buoyed, to face Virginia Tech in a game that could decide the ACC Coastal. The Hokies are a tough bunch. But these Jackets are rather salty themselves. They didn’t roll over for Papa Bowden. They won’t roll over for Brother Beamer.