Georgia Tech’s win over Georgia defines each team’s season

Georgia Tech running back Marcus Marshall (34) celebrates a 28-27 victory against Georgia with a piece of the Sanford Stadium hedges after an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016, in Athens, Ga. (AP Photo/Brett Davis)
Georgia Tech running back Marcus Marshall (34) celebrates a 28-27 victory against Georgia with a piece of the Sanford Stadium hedges after an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016, in Athens, Ga. (AP Photo/Brett Davis)

ATHENS, GA (AP) — One game made all the difference in how this season will be remembered for Georgia Tech and Georgia.

By beating Georgia 28-27 on Saturday with a stirring fourth-quarter comeback, coach Paul Johnson was equipped with memorable evidence that his team is on the rise. The Yellow Jackets (8-4) won five of their last six games, including three straight.

Senior quarterback Justin Thomas put a stamp on his Georgia Tech legacy with his second win over Georgia in three years — each coming at Sanford Stadium.

“I just feel great just to win the game, period,” Thomas said. “Especially in that form that we did.”

It also was a sweet win for Johnson, who often has heard that his spread-option offense is not built for comebacks and can’t attract recruits needed to win big games.

“This team doesn’t get a whole lot of respect, and neither does the program,” Johnson said. “So you just keep playing. And I think they’ve done a really good job of doing that. We don’t listen to anybody. We just play.”

The win likely silenced any remaining questions about Johnson’s future at Georgia Tech. His status seemed less certain following three straight losses in the middle of the season.

Similarly, Johnson’s assistants are emboldened by the three straight wins over Virginia Tech, Virginia and Georgia.

Johnson said Saturday his assistants deserved a shoutout.

“If you’re coaching, you’re getting better as the year goes along, and this football team is a way better team now than it was at the first of the year,” Johnson said.

Saturday’s loss keeps first-year Georgia coach Kirby Smart from making such a definitive claim about his team’s progress. The Bulldogs (7-5) blew a 27-14 lead in the fourth quarter.

There was much postgame talk about decisions made by Georgia offensive coordinator Jim Chaney late in the game, including a second-and-8 pass with less than 4 minutes remaining. Quarterback Jacob Eason threw behind his target, Terry Godwin, and Georgia Tech cornerback Lance Austin intercepted the deflection to set up the game-winning drive.

All blame for the loss should not fall on Georgia’s offense. The defense gave up a 94-yard drive that started Georgia Tech’s comeback.

It was the latest in a series of crushing home losses in Smart’s inaugural season. The Bulldogs lost to Tennessee on a last-second Hail Mary pass and suffered a one-point homecoming loss to Vanderbilt two weeks later.

Smart promised fans he’ll find a way to deliver better results.

“To the fans, I’m just as sick as you are, I’m just as upset as you are and I’m just as disappointed as you are,” Smart said. “We’ve got to do a better job. We recognize that … and we will.”

Each team must wait a week for a bowl bid. Georgia Tech might land in the Military Bowl in Annapolis, Maryland. Among other possibilities are the New Era Pinstripe Bowl in the Bronx, New York, and the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas.

Georgia has been mentioned as a candidate to be invited to the Music City Bowl in Nashville, Tennessee, and the Liberty Bowl in Memphis.

There have been suggestions that a Georgia-Miami matchup in the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida, would be attractive. The game would match the Bulldogs against their former coach, Mark Richt, who was fired after a 10-win finish in 2015.

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