Tech rallies against to defeat North Carolina

The rain kept fans home, caused fumbles and soaked the white dress shirts of fraternity brothers to mother-embarrassing translucence.

It did not, though, stop Georgia Tech.

The Yellow Jackets spotted North Carolina a 13-point lead but then rolled to convincing victory, a 28-20 win Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium. The Tar Heels, who have continually out-recruited Tech and sent more players to the NFL than have the Jackets, bowed to the Jackets for the fifth consecutive time, eighth of the past nine and 14th of the past 16.

“We just had to take their best punch and just roll with it,” B-back David Sims said. “We knew that, once we got going, it would be hard for them to stop us, and that’s what ended up happening in the first half.”

Tech (3-0 overall, 2-0 ACC) notched its second win in its four-game run against ACC Coastal Division opponents. Next up: Virginia Tech at home Thursday night. The Jackets have the small matter of last year’s overtime loss to the Hokies in the season opener to pay back.

With a win over the Hokies, who needed three overtimes to defeat Marshall on Saturday, Tech then would face Miami at Sun Life Stadium on Oct. 5 in a matchup that will go a long way toward deciding the Coastal Division.

“If you lose this game with a game so close, it can carry over somewhat, but this is good to carry over for us,” defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu said.

Down 13-0, Tech scored 28 of the final 35 points of the game. In coach Paul Johnson’s tenure, it rated as the second-biggest comeback, following only the rally from 16 points down to beat Georgia in 2008.

With the heavy rain making the passing precarious, Tech turned to Sims and A-back Robert Godhigh to form a smash-and-dash combination that churned out first downs with metronomic regularity.

Sims ran for 99 yards, tying his career best, with two touchdowns. It was probably the best game of his career.

“He got his (shoulder) pads down, he was hard to tackle,” Johnson said. “He was a foot off the ground (running the ball) and made some nice runs, he sure did.”

Godhigh, a former walk-on, tormented the Tar Heels (1-2, 0-1) with his low-to-the-ground shiftiness. He juked and spun his way to an even 100 yards, his career best, on only nine carries. Taking advantage of a key block by A-back Charles Perkins, Godhigh peeled off a 48-yard run in the third quarter to accelerate a drive that finished with Sims’ second touchdown for the final 28-20 margin.

“This was definitely the most physical game we’ve had so far,” Godhigh said. “I’m glad how we responded to it.”

On defense, Attaochu impacted the game with his speed off the edge. He repeatedly beat North Carolina’s offensive tackles to pressure quarterback Bryn Renner.

One of the biggest plays made by Attaochu was actually a no play. In the third quarter, Renner hit wide receiver Ryan Switzer for an 82-yard touchdown down the middle of the field. It would have made the score 27-14 in the Tar Heels’ favor, but UNC right tackle Jon Heck was called for a hold on Attaochu, who sped by him and was closing in on Renner.

UNC punted, and Tech went ahead on the ensuing possession.

“Our defensive staff, I thought, made some good adjustments at halftime, and Jeremiah turned it up a notch,” Johnson said. “The second half, he was really applying some pressure off the edge, got a couple holding calls and was really playing hard.”

At the start, Tech was a mess. The Jackets committed a substitution penalty on the first play from scrimmage. The Jackets permitted North Carolina to repeatedly get the ball in space. Tight end Eric Ebron was left open for big gains.

The Tar Heels took an easy 6-0 lead on the opening drive, their lead left only at six when they attempted a funky two-point try that failed. The lead then expanded to 13-0 and 20-7 when Renner snuck a 24-yard pass past cornerback Louis Young to wide receiver Sean Tapley for a touchdown with 9:18 to play in the first half.

To that point, the Tar Heels had produced 10 first downs and had gained 218 yards at an 8.1 yards-per-play clip. For the final 39-plus minutes of the game, North Carolina picked up seven first downs and gained 101 yards, averaging 3.9 yards per play.

They did not score again.

Tech’s slow start will need to be examined, to say nothing of the Jackets’ four fumbles.

“I’m pretty sure we’re going to get chewed out (Sunday) when we watch film,” quarterback Vad Lee said. “It’s not going to be pretty, but it’s always great to watch film when you get a win.”

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

X