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.”