As the losses piled up, Georgia Tech coach Geoff Collins was steadfast. His first Yellow Jackets team was getting better, he said. On Saturday, in a stadium and against an opponent that has consistently handed the Jackets defeat, the scoreboard at last attested to Collins’ sentiment.
In a game in which both teams did enough to purchase victory and defeat, Tech defeated Miami 28-21 in overtime at Hard Rock Stadium, ending a five-game losing streak to the Hurricanes in the teal-seated edifice. According to ESPN, Tech had a 6.6 percent chance of winning.
“I’ve told everybody in the Georgia Tech fan base, I’ve told everybody that would listen that these guys are getting better every single week,” Collins said. “That group that’s in the white and gold (Saturday) is a good football team, and we will continue to get better.”
The Jackets had provided reason to wonder, four games ago losing to an FCS school (The Citadel) for only the second time in school history, three weeks ago failing to score on offense against Temple, two weeks ago permitting North Carolina to amass 587 yards of offense and one week ago falling behind 38-7 in the first half against Duke.
On Saturday, in muggy conditions and before an announced crowed of 54,106, Tech (2-5, 1-3 ACC) won with contributions from sources both likely and unexpected. Running back Jordan Mason wore out Miami’s defense with a career-high 141 rushing yards, including a 22-yard run in overtime to reach the 1-yard line and the game-winning 1-yard plunge on the next play. Entering the game, Miami (3-4, 1-3) ranked seventh nationally in rushing defense (77.7 yards per game) and had permitted one team to rush for 100 yards. As a team, Tech gained a season-high 207 yards on the ground.
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.
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