No. 15 Ga. Tech fends off Clemson with late FG
Scott Blair had never thrown a touchdown pass. Scratch that one off the list.
He’d never kicked a game-winner for Georgia Tech. Took care of that one, too.
Blair threw a touchdown pass off a fake field goal, then booted a 36-yard kick with 57 seconds remaining as the 15th-ranked Yellow Jackets rallied to beat Clemson 30-27 after squandering a 24-point lead Thursday night.
“I was just trying to treat it like a normal kick, not psych myself out,” Blair said. “I wasn’t paying attention to the score at all. I didn’t want to think at the time that it was a game-winner. It was just another kick.”
Hardly. Georgia Tech (2-0, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) pulled itself back from the brink of a potentially devastating loss that looked like an easy victory early on. The Yellow Jackets raced to a 24-0 lead 4 1/2 minutes into the second quarter.
But Clemson (1-1, 0-1) scored 27 straight points, taking its first lead of the night on Richard Jackson’s 53-yard field goal with 11:33 to go.
“I’m proud of the way we played against a top 15 team on the road,” C.J. Spiller said. “We kept thinking we would come back and get back in the game. You have to believe. You have to have faith.”
Georgia Tech, which did nothing offensively through most of the second and third quarters, finally regrouped for a 69-yard drive that set up Blair’s tying kick, a 34-yarder with 5:40 left. Then, after a holding penalty on Clemson’s Thomas Austin wiped out Kyle Parker’s 38-yard completion to Jacoby Ford, the Yellow Jackets got a chance to win it.
Josh Nesbitt hooked up with Demaryius Thomas for a 39-yard pass, making up for a miserable passing performance in which the Georgia Tech quarterback completed only 3 of 14 for 83 yards with two interceptions. After Thomas’ catch, the Yellow Jackets moved into position for Blair’s winning kick.
Blair also threw a wobbly 34-yard touchdown pass during Georgia Tech’s early barrage. The Tigers didn’t spot Demaryius Thomas lingering near the sideline on an apparent field goal attempt, and Blair connected on a pass that wasn’t pretty but did the job.
“I actually don’t remember catching the ball or throwing the ball too much,” Blair said with a big smile. “I guess it was dreamlike.”
Clemson overcame the nightmarish start. Parker, a redshirt freshman making only his second college start, threw for 261 yards and three touchdowns, hooking up with Spiller on a 63-yarder and Ford on a 77-yarder, sandwiched around a 9-yard scoring pass to Dwayne Allen.
Spiller rushed for 87 yards and caught four passes for 69 more. Ford had five catches for 109 yards.
“We’ll learn from this,” coach Dabo Swinney said. “This loss won’t beat us twice.”
Anthony Allen led Georgia Tech with 127 yards rushing on just five carries, including an 82-yard touchdown on his team’s second play from scrimmage.
Nesbitt threw his first pick on the Yellow Jackets’ opening snap, but that was about the only thing they did wrong at the beginning. The next time they got the ball at their own 18, Nesbitt pitched to Allen, who got a block from Thomas and was gone down the sideline.
“All I had to do was run,” Allen said. “Everyone else did the hard stuff.”
Clemson drove to the Georgia Tech 38 and faced fourth-and-5. The Tigers sent on the field goal team, called time to consider their options, then chose one that backfired. The field goal team came back on, but only to have Richard Jackson take a direct snap and try to surprise the Yellow Jackets with a punt.
They weren’t fooled. Jerrard Tarrant came flying up to catch the line drive, broke a couple of tackles and didn’t stop running until he had his second punt return for a touchdown in as many weeks, this one covering 85 yards.
Georgia Tech’s chicanery worked a little better. After Clemson’s second interception was wiped out by a video review, the Yellow Jackets sent back their offense facing fourth-and-13 at the Tigers 34. Then they sent out the field-goal unit, but Clemson didn’t notice Thomas lingering just inbounds. Blair took a direct snap and floated a pass to Thomas, who was at least 20 yards in the clear. Chris Chancellor tried desperately to get back, but Thomas straight-armed him away to complete the 34-yard TD.
Blair tacked on a 24-yard field goal early in the second quarter.
Then it was Clemson’s turn. Spiller hauled in the 14th scoring play of at least 50 yards in his career, giving the Tigers some momentum before halftime. Clemson dominated the third quarter, scoring on back-to-back possessions to pull within 24-21. Then, in a stunner for the decked-in-white home crowd, Jackson converted from 21 and 53 yards early in the fourth to give the Tigers a lead.
At that point, Clemson had outgained Georgia Tech 319-91 in total yards since falling behind 24-0. But the Yellow Jackets finally converted on third down with about 10 minutes remaining after missing on their first nine attempts, which seemed to spark the option offense.
“When a team scores 27 unanswered points, that shows we let down a little bit,” Allen said. “That’s something we’ve got to work on. When we get the lead, we’ve got to keep on punching them in the mouth.”