Georgia Tech needed a boost. Quarterback Justin Thomas and wide receiver Brad Stewart complied, converting a 3rd-and-6 late in the third quarter to give the Yellow Jackets a lift and help secure their win over Georgia Southern Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
Thomas gave Stewart a jump ball, and Stewart outleapt Eagles cornerback Darius Jones for his only reception of the game, a critical 40-yard play that was the key play in Tech’s fourth touchdown drive of the game. Tech was one or two big plays short in losses to Miami and Pittsburgh the past two weeks. The Thomas-Stewart play was one of a number of difference-makers that helped tilt the game toward the Jackets.
“We’re known to be a running offense, but we have to have that passing element in our offense,” Stewart said. “So whenever our names are called, we have to make a play, and that’s what I did.”
At that point, Tech’s offense was limping. The Jackets had bolted out of the gate, scoring touchdowns on their first three possessions and averaging 20.1 yards in the process. After that, however, over the next three possessions, Tech came up with no points (kicker Harrison Butker missed on a field-goal try from 32 yards) and gained just 3.1 yards per play.
Ahead 21-10, the Jackets faced a 3rd-and-6 on their 14-yard line with about 3:40 left in the third quarter. Failure to pick up a first down would likely mean giving the Eagles the ball with advantageous field position and the chance to cut the lead to one possession.
Coach Paul Johnson called for Thomas to move the pocket left and look for Stewart. Protected well, Thomas planted and launched a pass towards the sideline. With Jones pressing up, Stewart ran downfield and looked back for the ball. Thomas has grown to trust Stewart’s ball skills, particularly on jump balls like this one. He made a third-down catch last week against Pittsburgh a similar play.
“He did that last week (against Pittsburgh), so I just knew I needed to put it in the area, not try to be perfect with it, but just put enough on it so he could make a play,” Thomas said.
Stewart leapt high at the Tech 45-yard line to bring down Thomas’ pass over Jones for the first down. Tech was in the end zone eight plays later for a 28-10 lead with 13:25 left in the game, too big a lead for the Eagles to overcome.
Said Stewart, “The corner pressed up, and I just had to get a good release on him, and as soon as I saw the ball come up in the air – it feels natural – just go up and get the ball, just make a play.”