Mason shed tackles and shot through gaps created by the Tech offensive line.
“I don’t know, something was different about them,” Mason said of the front five’s play Saturday. “They just came in with their heads ready to go.”
Two unlikely scores contributed significantly. On Miami’s first possession, after Pressley Harvin’s 57-yard punt was downed at the Hurricanes’ 9-yard line, defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker unleashed a new defensive look and sent the house on a third-and-8 from the 11. Linebacker Demetrius Knight sacked quarterback N’Kosi Perry, creating a fumble that defensive tackle Ja’Quon Griffin recovered in the end zone for the game’s first touchdown.
Penalties gave Miami a huge lift in scoring touchdowns on back-to-back possessions. One of them was an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty on Griffin for spiking the ball after the touchdown, a flag for which Collins accepted responsibility. Hoping to give his team a jolt of energy, Collins said he told players before the game that “the first celebration penalty is on me.”
“I was like, should I do it, should I not?” Griffin said. “So I just did it.”
“We needed a little spark and we got it,” Collins said.
With the score tied at 7-7, Miami needed only 13 yards to go up 14-7 on its third possession after a 52-yard punt return by K.J. Osborn. The Hurricanes had committed a roughing-the-kicker foul on the previous play, but rather than accept an automatic first down, the Jackets had to punt again because they were flagged for illegal formation, resulting in offsetting penalties.
But the Jackets tied the score at 14-14 with a special-teams gadget play, a Collins hallmark, before the end of the first quarter. Harvin lined up to punt from the Miami 41, but threw a perfect spiral to gunner Nathan Cottrell for a 41-yard touchdown.
“I was a little nervous walking out there until I had to say a little prayer up to God and ‘Big B’ and all my angels that’s upstairs watching over me,” said Harvin, referring to Brandon Adams, the former team member who died in March. “I just told them to put it in their hands and make a play for me.”
Tech also benefited from Miami running back DeeJay Dallas leaving the game with an injury after three carries and more prominently from three missed field-goal attempts by Miami by three different kickers, all from 34 yards or closer. The last was with less than a minute remaining in regulation, from 25 yards. It was blocked by defensive lineman Antwan Owens.
After Mason’s touchdown, the game ended after a replay review of a fourth-and-4 pass play from Tech’s 8-yard line, Perry to tight end Brevin Jordan. Jordan struggled free from safety Tariq Carpenter for what appeared to be a first down. Replay determined that Jordan was down before getting free, and the play ended up being inches short of the first down upon measurement, setting off an on-field celebration and chants of “A-T-L! A-T-L!” in the Tech locker room.