Photo by John Nakano

No, the 2015–2016 Tech football team did not, by most measures, have a successful season. They provided excitement, no doubt, by losing contests in a variety of frustrating fashions.

Tech stormed back from deficits on the road against Notre Dame and Duke, served as Clemson’s personal punching bag, allowed a back-and-forth prime time contest to slip away against Virginia Tech in Frank Beamer’s final game at The Flats and dropped their final contest of the season despite a defense that surrendered a mere 13 points to rival Georgia.

Yes, with the exception of the aforementioned Tigers game and a 38-21 stomping at the hands of Miami, the Jackets managed to keep their losses close. But it was, nevertheless, a season that provided more questions than answers. Was the team’s incredible New Year’s Six-capped 2014 season a mirage? Had years of subpar recruiting left Paul Johnson’s team unable to cope with losing key starters to graduation? Was Justin Thomas’ past success a product of a stellar supporting cast?

These aren’t questions we will have the answers to in the coming weeks. Tech’s spring game will no doubt serve to boost the stock of a few young players while reminding Tech fans that, yes, the sun will rise again, even if it doesn’t carry with it the same Orange-tinted luster it did just a
season ago.

But determining what Tech football has in store will likely begin at sunrise on Sept. 3, when the Jackets square off against Boston College in Ireland. Until then, let us distill the moments worth remembering from a campaign otherwise pleading to be forgotten.

The elephant in the room, of course, is the “Miracle on Techwood Drive” — Tech’s extraordinary 22-16 homecoming win over Florida State. For one game, the Jackets were the team its faithful had expected it to be entering the season. The defense forced an uncharacteristic turnover by Everett Golson, a young stable of backs pounded a stout Seminoles front seven, and when the game was on the line, Justin Thomas’ right arm and legs set the Jackets apart.

The game was punctuated by a miraculous blocked kick returned for a touchdown by sophomore Lance Austin. It was a play that momentarily catapulted a previously obscure defensive back to a household name and built a legacy that will likely outlast all of
its participants.

As a double reward, the game rudely awakened Florida State, a team fresh off a College Football Playoff appearance and a national championship. On the coldest and darkest of nights, we will always have WCNN announcers Brandon Gaudin and Sean Bedford offering the most excited description of a play in recent memory.

We also had the pleasure of watching two fantastic defensive backs round out their careers in fitting fashion: safety Jamal Golden and cornerback D.J. White.

Golden, a redshirt senior, was always associated with versatility, able to patrol the defensive backfield with authority and deftly slip past tacklers on kick returns. The Wetumpka, Ala., native had a penchant for performing at his best when the stakes were high, not the least his tide-turning pick against Florida State or career-high eight tackles and forced fumble in last season’s bowl win over Mississippi State.

White will be remembered for his game-ending interception in Athens that capped off an improbable comeback against the Bulldogs in 2014, not to mention his impressive back-of-the-end-zone grab against Notre Dame that kept Notre Dame from cashing in on a sure scoring opportunity and kept the Jackets alive.

A physical presence despite his average 5-foot-11 frame, White will have the opportunity to prove his mettle at the NFL’s annual Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, Ind., to be held next week. Regardless, we will fondly remember them as the stars they were, making plays under the bright lights of The Flats, heroes in our eyes.

Despite the tumultuous year, talk of coaching changes and misery, that’s worth something.