The outlook was bleak, but, to Justin Thomas, hardly unsettling.
Georgia Tech trailed Georgia 27-14 with 9:51 to play. The Yellow Jackets hadn’t scored in five possessions, gaining five first downs in that span. Now, just to stay in the game, Tech needed to go 94 yards to reach the Georgia end zone, preferably quickly.
“I think everybody was still poised. Nobody had their head down like the game was over,” Thomas said. “We knew if we could just get one in, the defense was doing their job for the most part, and if we got a score, they were going to stop ’em and give us the ball back, give us one more possession, which they did.”
Though ESPN’s calculations gave the Jackets a 2.9 percent probability of winning at that point, Thomas’ confidence proved accurately placed. As he has done repeatedly, Thomas led the Jackets to victory, driving Tech to two touchdowns in the final 6:30 to defeat Georgia 28-27 at Sanford Stadium.
On the first possession, Thomas converted a second-and-12 by finding wide receiver Brad Stewart for 23 yards and then hit A-back Qua Searcy for 39 on back-to-back plays to take the Jackets into Georgia territory. After Thomas didn’t throw to a wide-open Searcy on the first play, coach Paul Johnson called the same play again and Searcy was open again. Tech was in the end zone in just seven plays on its longest scoring drive of the season.
“Those two big plays were huge for us, got us on our own side of the field, and we were able to make something happen,” Thomas said.
On the game-winning drive, he got the Jackets out of another second-and-12 bind by finding A-back Clinton Lynch for 16 yards.
Thomas’ playmaking infected the Jackets, who have drawn on his confidence throughout his three-year career as a starter. Johnson praised his team’s grit and willingness to keep fighting.
“They’re confident that we’re going to dial it up and we’re going to get it done when we’ve got to,” Johnson said. “We haven’t always done it, sometimes you fall short, but it’s not for a lack of confidence.”
In 2014, Thomas led Tech’s last-minute drive against Georgia to send the game to overtime, scrambling 21 yards to set up Harrison Butker’s game-tying field goal. He led other escapes against Georgia Southern in 2014, and Boston College and Duke this season. This may have been a topper.
With the win, Thomas became the first Tech quarterback since Joe Hamilton (1998-99) to beat Georgia twice and just the sixth since 1957, joining Billy Lothridge, Jack Williams, John Dewberry, Shawn Jones and Hamilton. None of the other five, though, slayed the Bulldogs twice in Sanford Stadium, as Thomas has done.
Thomas said that “being able to go down as one of those quarterbacks, it’s a great feeling, especially as a senior.”