ATHENS — Georgia Tech wanted to throw a pass to its quarterback.
When it was clear that wouldn’t work, Qua Searcy decided to improvise.
The result: a soaring touchdown run with 30 seconds remaining that gave Georgia Tech a stunning 28-27 victory over Georgia on Saturday.
Searcy’s 6-yard TD off a busted play capped a fourth-quarter comeback that sent the Yellow Jackets (8-4) into a joyous celebration before a mostly stunned crowd between the hedges.
The white-clad players stormed the field, defiantly planting their gold flag in the “G” in the middle of the field — a bit of payback for Georgia doing the same thing at Georgia Tech’s stadium a year ago.
“Not bad for a bunch of 80th-ranked recruiting classes,” coach Paul Johnson said. “I’m proud of our kids. They fought back.”
The Bulldogs (7-5) built a 27-14 lead and appeared to be in total control after stopping Georgia Tech on a fourth-down play near midfield with just under 12 minutes to go.
But the Yellow Jackets put together a 94-yard scoring drive to make a game of it, and then came up with a huge turnover when it looked like Georgia was set to ice the victory. Jacob Eason threw an errant pass in the flat that deflected off Terry Godwin and was intercepted by Lance Austin at the Bulldogs 46 with 3:39 remaining.
The triple-option offense took it from there. Justin Thomas completed a 16-yard pass to Clinton Lynch and Marcus Marshall ripped off a 13-yard run before the Yellow Jackets faced third-and-goal at the Georgia 6.
Thomas pitched the ball to Searcy, who wanted to throw the ball back across the field to his quarterback drifting into the left flat. But the Bulldogs had Thomas covered, so Searcy took off through an opening up the middle, soared through the air at the 3 with the ball outstretched in front of him, and managed to just get it over the goal line.
“It was just like a split-second decision,” Searcy said. “I really was about to throw the ball, but I saw like five defenders go toward (Thomas) and nobody really was in the middle. I think I dove from like the 3, but I knew I had to go airborne.”
Georgia coach Kirby Smart said his defense had been preparing for the play all week.
“I was shocked,” he said. “We covered it … really well. But a breakdown on the inside. We didn’t get the guy on the ground. People probably overplayed the play. Everybody wanted to stop Justin, and the guy ran it in.”
Harrison Butker’s extra point gave Georgia Tech its second straight victory at Sanford Stadium, ruining a career-best 170 yards rushing by Georgia’s Sony Michel.
While the visiting team celebrated, Bulldogs lineman Greg Pyke slung his helmet across the field in frustration.
“That was indicative of our season,” Smart said. “A little good, a little bad, a lack of consistency. You’ve got to play 60 minutes. We didn’t play 60 minutes.”
Georgia Tech: The victory is a huge boost for Johnson, who has now beaten Georgia two of the last three years.
His future is sure to be one of the first things that new athletic director Todd Stansbury addresses when he takes over Monday. While there is plenty of debate about whether the triple-option offense has run its course in Atlanta, with some fans clamoring for a more traditional formation, Johnson turned things around after going 3-9 last season.
Georgia: Smart endured plenty of ups and downs in his first season as a head coach, and this was quite a bummer to finish off the regular season.
While Eason and a promising young defense raise hopes heading into 2017, a loss to the Yellow Jackets is no way to build good feelings among the Georgia fan base. It’s worth noting that previous coach Mark Richt lost to Georgia Tech only twice in 15 years. Smart is halfway to that total after his debut year.
Thomas became the first Georgia Tech quarterback to beat Georgia twice in his career since Joe Hamilton in 1998-99.
“Being able to go down as one of those quarterbacks is a great feeling, especially going out as a senior,” said Thomas, who completed 6 of 10 passes for 164 yards as the run-oriented Yellow Jackets actually outgained Georgia through the air.
Georgia Tech: After missing out on a bowl last season, the Yellow Jackets have been mentioned as a candidate for the Military Bowl in Annapolis, Maryland.
Georgia: The Bulldogs are possibly headed to the Music City Bowl in Nashville, Tennessee.