Tech takes unreal overtime stunner over Georgia

Beneath the Sanford Stadium stands, crowded into the visiting locker room with teammates who have charged together through a most improbable autumn, Georgia Tech guard Shaquille Mason didn’t want it to end.


Beneath the Sanford Stadium stands, crowded into the visiting locker room with teammates who have charged together through a most improbable autumn, Georgia Tech guard Shaquille Mason didn’t want it to end.

Saturday’s 30-24 overtime win over No. 9 Georgia did not represent a culmination for the No. 16 Yellow Jackets, but was nonetheless a cherished achievement for a team that repeatedly has won with a moment-seizing boldness that has often been elusive.

“After the game, I didn’t even want to take off my pads,” Mason said. “I was just sitting there like, this is crazy. The memory of a lifetime.”

For Mason, the Jackets and their oft-suffering fans, who have seen their team fall short to the hated Bulldogs by no shortage of pain-inflicting methods, the unrelenting resolve with which the Jackets stopped a run of five consecutive Georgia wins and 12 of the previous 13 will indeed long be cherished.

Coming back to tie or take the lead four different times, overcoming mistakes, delivering a basket full of clutch plays and reversing momentum in front of more than 90,000 red-shirted diehards, Tech ascended to another peak in a season’s climb that has reached far higher than many would have thought possible in August, and even October.

“It’s a great feeling,” quarterback Justin Thomas. “It’s a day to remember.”

By beating Georgia (9-3), Tech (10-2) achieved its fourth 10-win season since 1956 and second of coach Paul Johnson’s administration, with its best defensive performance of the season. Tech forced Georgia running back Nick Chubb to work for his yards — he finished the day with 129 rushing yards, but averaged 2.7 yards per carry outside of his 65-yard dash in the first quarter. The defense did what it has done throughout its second-half surge, force turnovers at an unlikely clip and in the most timely circumstances.

Two plays after cornerback Chris Milton chased down Chubb at the Tech 1-yard line, safety Isaiah Johnson drove himself into a mid-air collision with Chubb, forcing a fumble that was recovered by linebacker Tyler Marcordes. In the second quarter, linebacker Quayshawn Nealy stripped running back Sony Michel of the ball as he switched it from his right hand to his left to reach for the goal line, a fumble that Johnson fell on in the end zone for a touchback.

“Chubb is a big man and all week we’ve been saying is sacrifice, sacrifice your body because that’s what it’s going to take to win this game,” Johnson said of his forced fumble. “I did it for the other 10 guys on the field.”

They were the 15th and 16th takeaways in the past five games. In back-to-back games against N.C. State and Clemson, the Jackets returned two of them for touchdowns. Tech’s defense had scored two touchdowns in a game just eight times in the previous 625 games.

“It’s the way we’ve played all year,” Paul Johnson said. “(The Bulldogs) got down there pretty quick, and then they didn’t get it in.”

The last was provided by cornerback D.J. White, snuffing out Georgia’s overtime possession after Tech had gone up 30-24 on B-back Zach Laskey’s 2-yard touchdown plunge. White’s theft blanketed Sanford Stadium in quiet, the same sort of silence that fell upon Bobby Dodd Stadium a year ago after the Bulldogs won in double overtime to continue its dominance over the Jackets.

“Once I saw he had control, I went pretty wild,” defensive tackle Adam Gotsis said of White’s interception.

On the afternoon, Tech held the offense ranked No. 6 in yards per play (6.92) and No. 8 in scoring (43.3 points per game) to 5.79 yards and 24 points (including a defensive touchdown) and forced three turnovers from an offense that was tied for No. 2 in the country with just eight giveaways through their first 11 games.

Tech’s offense overcame an uneven first half by bludgeoning the Georgia defense with straightforward option play. After a 25/14 run/pass ratio in the first half, the Jackets ran on 45 of their 47 plays in the second half and overtime, gaining 280 rushing yards after halftime and 399 yards overall.

Tech played the second half without star wide receiver DeAndre Smelter, felled by a knee injury.

“He’s a really good player, but we decided in the second half, we were going to go at ’em with what we do,” Johnson said. “Right at ’em.”

After Thomas’ lost the ball on a questionable fumble on the opening drive of the second half, a strip that went 99 yards for a touchdown by defensive back Damian Swann, Tech put together drives for two touchdowns and then the game-tying field goal to end regulation. Laskey scored what proved to be the game-winner on a dive behind Mason.

“It was an emotional roller coaster, but it’s a day I’ll never forget,” Laskey said.