Big play for A.J. Gray

Sophomore DB A.J. Gray (15) and junior DB Lance Austin (17) signal a turnover after a play in the first half of Georgia Tech’s 38-35 win over Duke Saturday, October 29, 2016. SPECIAL/Daniel Varnado

Georgia Tech safety A.J. Gray conjured up memories of former Tech cornerback D.J. White with his downfield strip of Duke running back Shaun Wilson.

With a little more than four minutes to play in the first half, Wilson took a read-option handoff at the Duke 40-yard line and shot through a gap in the middle of the line untouched and appeared headed for the end zone.

However, Gray caught up with Wilson at the 10-yard line and dislodged the ball as he brought down Wilson. Cornerback Step Durham picked up the ball to return possession to the Jackets and keep the score at 21-7 in Tech’s favor.

It was quite a play by Gray to catch up. Wilson hit full speed between the Duke 45-yard line and midfield and passed Gray on the same side of the field at the Duke 48. Gray was moving upfield to cover a tight end in the left flat and had to pivot and change direction to chase Wilson.

“That play was huge,” safety Corey Griffin said. “Overlapping each other with great effort. I was in the post, the guy broke and I couldn’t get him on the ground, but A.J. made a great hustle play and got the ball out and Step recovered it.”

Gray led Tech in tackles with nine, a career high, and played a second game in a row in which he was impactful.

It was Tech’s second fumble recovery of the half after Tech had had just gained three fumble recoveries in the first seven games.

It was reminiscent of White’s strip of Pitt running back James Conner in 2014, when White chased down Conner inside the Tech 5-yard line and forced a fumble that rolled out of the end zone, giving the Jackets the ball on a touchback. It was a momentum-changing play for Tech, who went on to win the game 56-28.

“It was a great effort play by A.J. to save the score,” coach Paul Johnson said. “It was a great effort play. You’d like to see the guy not running down the middle of the field untouched, but it was a great effort play by A.J. Gray.”

Said quarterback Justin Thomas, “That was huge.”

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