Georgia Tech (7-4, 4-4 ACC) Beats Virginia (2-9, 1-6) 31-17 In Last Home Game of the Season
~ Live blog from Bobby Dodd Stadium ~

By Don Stone - Georgia Tech Express

   Certainly this season is a great improvement from the debacle that was 2015 when Georgia Tech finished 3-9, 1-7 in the ACC and missed a bowl appearance for the first time in 19 years. Virginia also had a bad season going 4-8. But one of those four wins was a 27-21 Halloween win over the Yellow Jackets.
  The 2016 season has had its shares of highlights including a last second opening win against a good Boston College defense in Ireland. Wins against Duke and their biggest of the season at then #10 ranked Virginia Tech on the road brought signs of hope for Jacket fans. That one made them bowl eligible for a holiday destination that could be anywhere from the Belk Bowl in Charlotte to the Sun Bowl in El Paso with a half dozen options in between.
 Tech has a decent shot of winning its last two games and finishing 8-4. Next week at Georgia is definitely possible given the uneven performance this season for the Bulldogs in Kirby Smart's first season. Even though the Cavaliers won last year's matchup, the game today would be a stunner if they come out on top. There's no way you can rationalize a road win against the Hokies without Justin Thomas, Freddie Burden, Andrew Marshall, J.J. Green and Dedrick Mills followed by a home loss to the Cavs. Virginia comes in as the worst team in the ACC with losses to teams like Richmond and UConn and their only wins against Duke and Central Michigan. A stat to watch. On the surface, it would appear that Tech should have a big game on the ground with the Cavs giving up an average of 179.2 yards rushing and the Jackets averaging 266.4.
  New head coach Bronco Mendenhall has faced Paul Johnson before as head coach at BYU, most recently in 2012 where he won 41-17 and in 2013 in Utah winning 38-20. Tech had games scheduled with the Cougars for 2014 and 2017 but cancelled them.
  Lawrence Austin and Parker Braun were named ACC Players of the Week for the Jackets who will send off 16 seniors playing their final home game.
  It was a 52 degree wind chill at kickoff. The 20 mph gusts would probably play a part in the kicking game.
  A sparse crowd was on small that the pregame ritual where Buzz jumps into the student section in the north end zone and is hoisted up to the top of the stands only made it half way. There were not enough students to fill the top half. Even the normally enthusiastic fans who show up with now shirts painted in yellow in the south end zone only had four show up. I could only find about 50 or so fans wearing orange in the visitor's corner, most of them in the upper deck. Attendance was announced of just over 32,000.
  Virginia started off from their 25 with a quick 24 yard pass to Keeon Johnson. But on the next play, outgoing senior Patrick Gamble sacked Matt Johns for a 7 yard loss to their 42. A few short gains and they had to punt with Brad Stewart fair catching at the 9.|
  A missed toss hit the ground with senior Isiah Willis grabbing it for a two three yard loss. Three and out and a nice 55 yard punt by senior Ryan Rodwell was caught by Daniel Hamm at the VC38 but run back 26 yards to the GT36. Astronaut and 1998 Tech grad Shane Kimbrough gave a live message from the space station.
  Taquan Mizzell picked up a first down on a seven yard carry to the 26. On a third and three, Johns hit Olamide Zadcheaus for another first at the 14. That's as far as they could get. Sam Hayward was brought in and missed wide right on a 31 yard field goal attempt squandering great field position.
  Tech took over at their 20. Willis started with a five yard carry with Marcus Marshall getting three, then four for a first down at the 31. Not much on the next two carries to make it third and 8. Mendenhall called his first time out. A Justin Thomas carry couldn't get enough and Rodwell had to punt again for a touchback.
  Catches by Mizzell for 7 and 8 got a first down at the 41. Mendenhall took his second time out. A tough run by Mizzell got another first at the 48. Johns found Johnson for another first down at the GT33. On a third and four at the 27, Johns scrambled and hit Doni Dowling for another first at the 20. The first quarter came to an end.
  Mizzell rushed for five with Albert Reid converting after six to the nine. Mizzell got five more for a second and goal at the four. A direct snap to Hamm gave Virginia the first points of the game, 7-0.
  The team that had dominated Virginia Tech just a week earlier had yet to show up. They began their third drive at the 25.
  A nine yard catch by Clinton Lynch got some needed yards. Marshall did the rest running 68 yards down the visitor sideline to tie the game at 7.
  The Cavs fumbled the punt but recovered at the 26. So far, the defense had been unable to stop Mizzell, who got 7 more to the 33. He looks at this point like he will easily surpass his 84.5 game rushing average with 58 yards already on 13 carries. Reid got a first on a carry to the 35. Mizzell again for 7 to the 49. Reid converted a third and short into GT territory at the 44. A wide open Dowling picked up 14 to the 30.  On the way to the ground, Johns threw it to Dowling for 13 more to the 17. But the drive stalled with Hayward in for his second attempt, this one converting from 30 to give his team a three point lead 10-7.
  A short kick was taken by Marshall out 25 yards to the 27. Marshall, almost tackled for a loss, rumbled and stumbled for 20 yards to the 47. But, on the next play, Thomas was sacked by Andrew Brown for a five yard loss for a second and 15. Under pressure, the senior QB threw a pair of incompletions forcing a punt to the 22. Terrell Lewis picked up a 15 yard interference call for not giving Hamm enough space on the punt, moving the ball out to the 38 with 2:23 left in the low scoring half.
  Mizzell ran for 8 followed by an 8 yard catch by Andre Levrone at the GT36 with just over a minute remaining. Moving the wrong way, a pair of false starts brought up a third and 20 at the VC43. After a short run, Johnson took his first time out to stop the clock at 0:50. A wobbly punt bounced its way to the GT16. Johnson chose to let the clock run out and regroup in the locker room.
  Except for the one big TD play by Marshall, the Jackets had been relatively lethargic on both sides of the ball, with only 111 yards of offense to the Cavs' 209. Apart from that 67 yard run, that left just 44 yards of total offense. Just three first downs by the Jackets to 13 for Virginia.
  Time of possession, normally heavily in Tech's favor showed Virginia with the ball for 42 plays in 20:20 to the home team's 17 plays in 9:40. “We couldn’t get them off the field," said Coach Johnson. "There were several times since the opening possession that every time they needed to flip the field, they’d flip the field. We were abysmal on third down, and we never really got anything going running-wise, except for big plays. I don’t know if we’ve played this bad all year up front, and really our A-backs failed to make big blocks, so that was a deadly combination.”
  At least Tech got the ball to start the second half starting at the 25. A toss left to Willis saw the senior battle 19 yards to the 43, almost 20 percent of the total first half yardage on one play. But one play doesn't make a drive. A nice Rodwell punt was downed at the three. A chance to hold and get great field position.
  A pair of safe carries made it third and six at the seven. But Johns got them out of the hold with a clutch 18 yard pass Johnson to the 26. Back to Mizzell for a dozen on the ground to the 38. Mendenhall took his first time out facing another third and long. Johns was brought down after keeping it for five forcing a punt. Stewart fair caught at the 20. Should have been much better if the defense had held. The Jacket offense needed to find itself, virtually ineffective so far.
  A pair of key plays that might come back to haunt the Jackets. First as Stewart ran free wide open and dropped a perfect pass 40 yards downfield, a sure TD pass showed up as a mere incomplete pass. But it was much more. Second, a call that Johnson would be second guess on. On the 29, as he inexplicable went for it on fourth and one and failed. Virginia taking over on downs. A Reid five yard rush got them into field goal range but Mizzell fell down at the 24. No harm as Hayward missed for the second time from 42. Tech took over at the 25.
  Thomas started with a quick 22 yard pass to Lynch at the 47. An ineligible receive downfield call made it first and 15 at the 42. This time, Thomas had his bomb caught by Lynch running 54 yards to the end zone to give the Jackets their first lead of the game 14-10.
  After the punt, Virginia got the ball at their 30. Stewart had to be helped off the field after the punt to the 16.
 Thomas got some breathing room with a 17 yard catch by Ricky Jeune to the 33. Marshall picked up seven. Then Qua Searcy, not heard from much in recent games after a strong start to the season, took a toss right and found running room taking it 60 yards for a third Jackets touchdown putting them up 21-10. The score looking more like you might have expected.
  Virginia began at the 25 but didn't get very far after Corey Griffin picked off a Johns pass at the 49, returned 33 yards to the 18. After a Thomas keeper to the 15 the teams switched to the other end of the field to the fourth quarter.
  In the third quarter, Tech had turned it around with 199 yards of offense to the Cavs' 52, outscoring them 14-0 in the process.
  Facing a third and one at the nine, Johnson took his first time out. Lynch picked up the first down but a clipping call on Braun pushed it back to the 24 for a very different third and 16. Donte Wilkins was banged up on the play. The penalty was too much to overcome with senior Harrison Butker showing why he will be missed, connecting from 42 for a 24-10 score.
  Down by two scores, Virginia began a nice drive starting at their 25. With no pressure on Johns, the QB hit an open Levrone waiting on the sideline for an easy 12 yarder. Good and bad news on the next play as Mizzell broke free 29 yards only to see an unsportsmanlike penalty call on TB Jordan Ellis move it back 15 to the GT43. Dowling got 7 to the 35. Mizzell picked up a first on a carry up the middle to the 31. Tight end Ryan Santoro got his first catch for six to the 25. Mizzell caught one for seven and a first down at the 18. Mizzell caught another for six and first and goal at the 8. Most of Johns' passes have been short with a few longer gains done after the catch.
  The defense stopped them to bring up a fourth and goal at the one. Mendenhall went for it and converted easily with Santoro uncovered in the back of the end zone bringing the Cavaliers to within a score, 24-17.
  Tech began their drive at their 35. On a third and five, a bad snap forced a punt giving the Cavs a shot at tying the score. But a 60 yard Rodwell punt was perfectly knocked down at the two yard line by Meiko Dotson. With 5:21 remaining, they needed to go 98 yards needing 7 to tie it.
  Passes to Dowling and Mizzell got them a first down to the 14. But the defense turning in possibly the play of the game as Lance Austin intercepted Johns at the 24 and artfully weaved his way to the end zone for a 31-17 lead.
  “It is always good to score on defense," said Austin. "Unlike Corey [Griffin], I have a little shiftiness, so it feels good to get back into the end zone.”
  An unsportsmanlike call against Tech because they were actually enjoying the big moment was enforced on the kickoff. Inconsequential with Virginia taking over at their 25.
  The defense rose again and stopped the Cavs who failed on a fourth and 7 attempt, taking over at the VC27 with 2:45 left. After a bad toss that recovered by Tech, Johnson called a time out and went to the huddle to apparently chew the offense out for being sloppy. The defense jumped off sides on a third and 21. The coach went for it on fourth and 15 getting it to the 22. The Cavs took over needing a pair of TDs with just over a minute left, no timeouts and 1:30 on the clock. A few meaningless plays and first downs only padded the offense's stats a bit. Throw in a sack by Kyle Cerge-Henderson and a last second interception by Brant Mitchell and it was all over. Final score, about what you might have thought it would be going in, Georgia Tech 31, Virginia 17.
  In his final game at Bobby Dodd Stadium, Thomas walked along the south end zone wall high fiving as many fans as he could.
  “I tried to approach it as any other game," said Thomas. "I did not want to come in thinking about this being the last one. I wanted to make sure I executed. It was fun, a great last one, and we went out with a win. We have a lot of great memories in this stadium and did a lot of good things throughout our careers. It was a great moment."
  Virginia actually wound up with more total yards 409-321.  But most of them were between the 20s. But most of that advantage came in the first half. A pair of missed field goals didn't help their cause. Now, with a chance for a respectable 8-4 season, the Jackets head to Athens to take on the Bulldogs. Would the team from last week at Virginia Tech and this week in the third quarter show up or the one from this week's first half. That will determine the outcome in a very winnable game.

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