ATLANTA — Justin Thomas ran for a touchdown, backup quarterback Matthew Jordan had a couple of short scores and Georgia Tech defeated Mercer 35-10 on a sweltering Saturday.
The Yellow Jackets (2-0) overcame an early 7-0 deficit against a Southern Conference school playing its first game against a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent.
Thomas tied the game on a 13-yard run late in the first quarter, and short-yardage specialist Jordan put the Yellow Jackets ahead to stay with a 1-yard plunge early in the second.
After Georgia Tech pulled off a fake punt, Jordan tacked on another 1-yard scoring run in the final minute of the third period. Thomas didn’t play after halftime because of a minor injury, though coach Paul Johnson said his senior quarterback could’ve gone back in if needed.
He wasn’t. Jordan did just fine, rushing 12 times for 44 yards.
“I feel a lot more confident than I was last year,” the sophomore said.
Mercer (0-2) stunned the home crowd by jumping ahead on John Russ’ 32-yard TD pass to Avery Ward, after Georgia Tech fumbled the ball away on the opening possession of the game.
With the temperature climbing into the 90s and many fans in an already sparse turnout heading home at halftime, the Yellow Jackets turned to their running game to wear down the Bears. Georgia Tech finished with 364 yards on the ground.
“I was hoping we would play better,” said Johnson, who followed through on some lineup changes after a lackluster victory over Boston College to open the season. “But we did win 35-10. There’s a lot of things we can improve on, a lot of things we can get better at. It’s a process.”
Thomas ran seven times for 69 yards and completed 5-of-10 passes for 80 yards. Johnson would only say the quarterback was “dinged up,” but it clearly wasn’t anything serious. He was smiling and waving at fans on the sideline in the closing minutes.
Qua Searcy led all runners with 91 yards, while six other Georgia Tech players were in double figures.
Russ was 24 of 38 for 225 yards. The Bears were limited to 85 yards rushing.
Georgia Tech seized control of the game by pulling off the fake punt after Mercer started the second half with a 17-play, 61-yard drive that consumed nearly 8 ½ minutes.
Having settled for a field goal that made it 21-10, the Bears appeared to force a three-and-out. But linebacker Chase Alford, the blocking back on the punt team, took a direct snap and ran 21 yards for a first down. Georgia Tech went on to score the TD that put the game away.
“We needed to get another possession,” Alford said. “Coach said to run it. I was able to get some good blocking and get the first down.”
Mercer: The Bears picked up a $300,000 payday for making an 87-mile trip to Atlanta, which didn’t even require a hotel stay. The money will be a major boost to the school’s athletic budget.
Georgia Tech: It’s hard to read much into a victory over an outclassed opponent, though the Yellow Jackets at least got a chance to send out some little-used players. Third-string quarterback TaQuon Marshall scored his first college touchdown on a late 11-yard run.
Mercer: The Bears return home to meet Tennessee Tech, still looking for their first win of the season.
Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets will take a step up in competition when they host Vanderbilt from the Southeastern Conference next Saturday. This will be the first meeting between the schools since 2009. Georgia Tech has not lost to the Commodores since 1941, going 11-0-1 since then.