There was no panic on Georgia Tech’s sideline when a two-touchdown lead slipped away.
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Hey, that gave Tevin Washington and the triple-option offense another opportunity to shine.
Washington threw a long touchdown pass and ran for two scores, including a 5-yarder with about 5 1/2 minutes remaining that gave No. 25 Georgia Tech a 35-28 victory over North Carolina on Saturday. The Yellow Jackets improved to 4-0 for the first time since 1990, the season they shared the national title with Colorado.
”After the first few games, we thought we would try and make this more exciting,” joked coach Paul Johnson, whose team won its first three games by an average of more than 37 points. ”I was proud of our guys and especially the way we came back in the fourth quarter.”
The Tar Heels (3-1, 1-1 ACC) were actually the ones who fought back from a 28-14 deficit going to the final period, tying the game on Giovani Bernard’s 55-yard run with 7:22 left.
Georgia Tech needed only four plays to respond in its conference opener.
”It was just another chance to show what the triple-option is all about,” center Jay Finch said.
Running back Roddy Jones reached out to take a pitch from Washington that looked too far in front of him, going 48 yards down the sideline to the North Carolina 9. Two snaps later, with Finch and others clearing the way, Washington carried it in himself for the winning score with 5:20 left.
Stephen Hill had a huge game for Georgia Tech with six receptions for 151 yards, including a 59-yard touchdown. Bernard rushed for 155 yards and two TDs.
The Yellow Jackets came in with the nation’s highest-scoring offense (59.3 points a game) and leading in several other offensive categories. While not nearly as dominating as they were in the first three games, they still had another big day offensively, piling up 312 yards on the ground and 496 yards in all.
”I don’t get hung up on yards and all that,” Johnson said. ”I just want to score more than they do.”
Washington had a fumble and an interception, but he mostly ran the offense just as it’s drawn up. He completed 10 of 14 passes for 184 yards, hooking up with Hill on Georgia Tech’s seventh one-play scoring drive of the season midway through the second period.
Hill should’ve had another score, dropping a sure TD pass late in the game after he again broke free behind the secondary. He pulled up with some sort of cramp or hamstring problem just as the ball arrived, then hobbled to the sideline.
It was hard to get too mad at the 6-foot-5 receiver, especially with the leaping, one-handed grab he made on a pass in the first half, somehow getting his fingers on the ball and pulling it down as he fell hard to the ground.
”Tevin put it in a spot that only I can go get it,” Hill said. ”I just used my basketball skills from high school.”
Washington also ran 25 times for 74 yards, taking quite a pounding from the Tar Heels.
”I knew I was going to have to make some plays in the running game,” he said. ”Just making sure I didn’t try to do too much and just do my job.”
North Carolina’s Bryn Renner completed 17 of 25 for 204 yards, but a couple of interceptions plagued the sophomore in his first start outside of Chapel Hill.
”This is my first road game, but I can’t use that as an excuse,” he said. ”We didn’t make enough plays to win. That’s all it boils down to.”
The Tar Heels trailed 17-7 at halftime, and Georgia Tech drove for a field goal on the opening possession to extend its lead.
Renner and Bernard led North Carolina back. Renner completed five straight passes on a right-down-the-field, 74-yard drive the first time he got the ball, three of the completions going to Dwight Jones before Nelson Hurst hauled in a 6-yard scoring pass.
The shootout was on. Washington guided Georgia Tech on a 13-play, 81-yard drive and scored on a 1-yard dive. The Yellow Jackets also made the 2-point conversion for their biggest lead.
North Carolina didn’t fade. Renner completed three more passes before hitting freshman Eric Ebron over the middle for a 20-yard TD on the first play of the fourth quarter, drawing the Tar Heels within 28-21.
Then, facing third-and-15 deep in Tar Heels territory, Bernard took a short pass and broke at least three tackles on a 19-yard play that kept the drive going. He followed with an even bigger play, taking a handoff at his own 45 and going untouched up the middle to make it 28-all.
”I was ready to get a lot of touches this game,” Bernard said. ”But personally, I don’t think I produced enough because we didn’t win the game.”
North Carolina drove for its only lead on the first possession of the game, with Bernard scoring on a 4-yard run. The Yellow Jackets settled for Justin Moore’s 23-yard field goal on their opening possession, breaking a streak of three straight games in which they scored on their first offensive play.
Turns out, they saved that sort of quick strike for a possession midway through the second period. From the 41, Washington fooled the Tar Heels with a play that looked like a run. The cornerback bit on the fake and Hill ran right on by, hauling in the pass on the run and not stopping until he got to the end zone.
Still, the Tar Heels did a respectable job, especially without leading tackler Zach Brown, who played only on the special teams because of a disciplinary issue.