BLACKSBURG, Va. — Virginia Tech has always been the team known for its defense in matchups with the triple-option offense of Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets turned the tables some on Saturday.
Georgia Tech (4-0, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) returned one of Michael Brewer's three interceptions for a touchdown and used the last one to set up Harrison Butker's 24-yard field goal on the game's final play in a 27-24 victory against the Hokies.
"When the game came down to it in the last quarter, I felt like the defense stepped up," defensive tackle Adam Gotsis said after Georgia Tech snapped a four-game losing streak in the series.
The Yellow Jackets trailed 16-10 at halftime before Paul Davis' 41-yard interception return put them ahead 17-16, and trailed 24-17 entering the fourth quarter.
But stellar sophomore Justin Thomas threw a 31-yard touchdown pass to DeAndre Smelter to tie it with 2:03 to play, and D.J. White intercepted Brewer's pass into double coverage on the Hokies' next play from scrimmage to set up the winning drive.
"Everyone kept their head on straight, and we knew what we had to accomplish," Thomas said after running 22 times for 165 yards and completing 7 of 18 passes for 125 yards, including the tying touchdown. "We dug ourselves out of a hole."
Brewer, a transfer from Texas Tech, has now thrown seven interceptions in his last three games for the Hokies (2-2, 0-1), who were foiled in their bid to start ACC play with a victory. The Hokies' three turnovers led to 17 points, and the last giveaway came with overtime beckoning, sending them to home losses in consecutive weeks for the first time since 1995.
They've also lost four consecutive home games against Bowl Subdivision teams for the first time since they did it spanning the 1978 and 1979 seasons.
"They all hurt, but this one's pretty tough," Brewer said. "It's an ACC game, the second (loss) in a row. There were so many opportunities to put them away. We just didn't do it."
Brewer had a big day, completing 28 of 39 for 297 yards, but went from goat to hero to goat again.
He threw an interception in traffic that Davis returned 41 yards for a touchdown with 11:22 left, giving the Yellow Jackets their first lead in a game the Hokies had once seemed poised to run away with.
Brewer then scooped up teammate Marshawn Williams' fumble at the Yellow Jackets' 21 and took it the rest of the way, diving for the right pylon. His 2-point pass to Bucky Hodges put the Hokies in front again 24-17.
But the speedy Thomas brought the Yellow Jackets back to tie it with a nine-play, 67-yard drive. He kept it alive with a 19-yard pass to Smelter on a fourth-and-15 from midfield, and fed Smelter again two plays later with a nicely threaded pass for a 31-yard touchdown pass.
The fourth-down pass came with Smelter running the same route Thomas has missed him on a play earlier.
"I just told the guy to get open," he said.
"He's a gamer," Yellow Jackets coach Paul Johnson said of his quarterback. "I can't say enough good things about him. He's not afraid of the moment."
In the first half, another mistake by Brewer swung the momentum the Yellow Jackets' way.
The Hokies appeared to be driving toward taking command when Brewer hit Cam Phillips for 30 yards on a third-and-15 play. But on the next play, he threw deep and the only player in the vicinity was George Tech's Corey Griffin, whose interception set up a touchdown.
Thomas had completions of 18 and 19 yards on the march and ran it in from the 2 to make it 13-10.
In the final minute, the Hokies drove 56 yards to Joey Slye's third field goal, from 36 yards out.
The Hokies led 13-3 after Williams' 6-yard scoring run midway through the second quarter. The 63-yard drive featured a 9-yard run by Brewer on third-and-9, a play on which he plowed into three defenders to get the first down, and an 18-yard completion to Isaiah Ford on a third-and-11 play.
Earlier, Slye kicked field goals of 42 and 33 yards. In between those kicks, the Yellow Jackets went for it on fourth-and-2 from the Hokies' 37, and Thomas had 6-foot-5 Darren Waller wide open behind the defense, but the pressure was such that he could not get off a good throw and it fell incomplete.
Thomas and the Yellow Jackets made it look easy after taking the opening kickoff, driving 52 yards in seven plays before the drive stalled at the Virginia Tech 26. Thomas had runs of 14, 29 and 11 yards on the drive, and Butker's 43-yard field goal made it 3-0 after just 4:04