Tech beat Wake Forest in the Jackets’ first overtime game since the 2003 season, 30-27. The win gave Tech sole possession of first place in the ACC’s Coastal Division.
Head Coach Paul Johnson elected to attempt a fourth-down conversion in overtime while the team was down a field goal. None of the team’s previous four fourth-down attempts in the game had been successful, but junior quarterback Josh Nesbitt fell forward on the sneak for more than the needed one yard and gained a new set of downs. He ran the ball in for the game-winning touchdown on the next play.
“Big-time players make big-time plays when they are called upon,” Nesbitt said.
If the fourth-down play had not been successful, Tech would have lost the game. They could have attempted a short field goal with Scott Blair to tie the game and play a second overtime.
“You have to play to win. Kids work hard. They put in a lot of time and effort and if we can’t get a half of a yard, we probably don’t deserve to win,” Johnson said.
Tech had called a timeout after lining up in an attempt to draw Wake offsides. Afterward, the kicking team did not go on, and instead the offense returned to the field.
“Who wouldn’t want to play for a coach like that who is going to believe in you? With the game on the line, he is going to put it our hands so that we can do what we are supposed to do,” said junior B-back Jonathan Dwyer.
Dwyer gained 189 yards on 23 carries, surpassing his previous career high of 186 set just a game ago at Vanderbilt. He also surpassed 1,000 yards rushing on the season for the second straight year.
The successful rush and the resulting touchdown were exceptions to the struggles Tech experienced on fourth downs.
In the second quarter Tech was not able to convert a similar play inside of Wake territory. After failing to move the ball forward on third-and-one, the offense stayed on the field for the fourth down attempt. Nesbitt bobbled the snap and recovered it while coming down at a similar spot. After an official timeout for measurement, the ball was measured short at the Wake 38.
The ensuing drive resulted in a Wake field goal to put the Demon Deacons up 17-10.
The next three fourth-down attempts also resulted in no gain or negative yardage. Nesbitt fell short on the next attempt, junior A-back Anthony Allen dropped a pass on the next one and Josh Nesbitt lost his footing and fell on the last one. Three of the attempts came from the Wake 38.
“We kept getting down there in ‘No Man’s Land’ and we bogged down. We did not convert on fourth down…we did some things a little bit uncharacteristic of the way we’ve been playing,” Johnson said.
Despite the close score, Tech performed well on offense for much of the game. The offense gained over 400 yards rushing for the third time this season, and three players had 50 rushing yards or more.
In the second half, the defense effectively shut down the Deacons’ offense, holding them to just 113 total yards and getting three sacks.
The total included a crucial sack by junior defensive end Derrick Morgan near the end of the fourth quarter. On third-and-seven from Tech’s 35, Morgan rushed Wake quarterback Riley Skinner and tackled him for a five-yard loss.
The sack not only forced a fourth down, but it also moved the Deacons far enough back that they decided to punt instead of attempting a field goal.
“I swiped at him…I had to muster up my strength and go out there and give it one more play, reach down deep within and get some strength and power,” Morgan said.
It was a career day for several other players. Redshirt sophomore B-back Preston Lyons scored the first touchdown of his career when he ran 31 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter to give Tech a 10-0 lead.
“It was just a regular play call, a pitch out to me. I got a bunch of great blocks…I caught the ball, I looked up field and there was no one out there,” Lyons said.
Junior kicker Scott Blair kicked a career-long 45-yard field goal to end Tech’s first offensive possession. It was Blair’s first successful field goal from 40-plus yards.
Penalties hurt Tech throughout the game. On Wake’s second drive of the game, Skinner attempted a deep pass on third-and-eight from the Demon Deacon’s own 20. Junior linebacker Brad Jefferson attempted to break up the pass but pushed down receiver Chris Givens in the process, keeping the drive alive.
Later in the drive, Wake was given a new set of downs at Tech’s 2-yard line after junior rover Morgan Burnett was flagged for roughing the kicker on a field goal attempt.
In the second quarter, Tech had a rushing touchdown by junior receiver Stephen Hill called back because of a holding call. The drive ended after one of the failed fourth down conversions.
The Jackets were also flagged for three chop block penalties.They ended the game with a total of seven penalties for 78 yards.
Tech next visits Duke in Durham, N.C. in its last ACC game of 2009. The Jackets can clinch the Coastal Division with a victory.