Five games that defined 2017 Tech football

Photo courtesy of Danny Karnik

Heading into the 2017 football season, Tech fans, players and coaches were optimistic for what the future might hold. The 2016 Tech football season turned out to be quite successful, as the Jackets ended with a 9-4 record that included a big win against rival UGA and a win against Kentucky in the TaxSlayer Bowl. However, the 2017 season did not turn out to be what people expected, and the highs and lows of the season can be summarized through several defining games.

Tennessee. Enough said.

Junior TaQuon Marshall made an impressive debut at quarterback by scoring five of the six Jackets touchdowns of the night. With about five minutes left in the fourth quarter and the scoreboard reading 28-21 in favor of Tech, things were looking promising until running back J.J. Green fumbled the ball in an effort to get more yardage deep in Tennessee territory. The Vols recovered the fumble and tied the game. After getting back into field goal range, Tech’s Shawn Davis’s kick was blocked, sending the game into overtime, and then minutes later, double overtime.

Rather than kick an extra point and head into triple overtime, the Jackets attempted a 2-point conversion with a lateral pass from Marshall to B-back Kirvonte Benson, who was brought down just short of the end zone. With that, No. 25 Tennessee defeated Georgia Tech 42-41 in a heartbreaking one-point loss that affirmed Paul Johnson’s reputation as a risk-taker and introduced Marshall to the national stage.

No more pitt-falls

After losing to Pittsburgh in both the 2015 and 2016 seasons, Tech was ready to end the losing streak and play in their first conference game. Key players in the game were redshirt sophomore, KirVonte Benson, who ran for a career high of 196 yards and scored two touchdowns, and Marshall, who added 112 yards and two touchdowns.

Though the Jackets fumbled four times throughout the game, Pittsburgh was not able to score off any of the fumbles — a success for a Tech defense who did not have many. At halftime, the score was a close 21-17. However, the Jackets shut down Pittsburgh during the second half and scored 14 more points that Pitt left unanswered. Tech won 35-17 in the ACC opener, an event that boosted the Jackets’ morale and provided their first win against an FBS opponent of the year.

Miami’s miracle

With Miami ranked No. 11 at the time and the Jackets receiving fringe votes from Associated Press writers, a Tech victory would have all but guaranteed Tech a spot in the Top 25. The Jackets had the upper hand for the majority of the game, including a rare onside kick returned for a touchdown, but fell short in the last two and a half minutes as the Canes drove downfield for a hefty 85 yards.

On fourth and 10, Miami receiver Darrell Langham caught a risky pass that deflected off of Tech cornerback Lamont Simmons’s shoulder, placing Miami in ideal field position for a field goal. With four seconds left on the clock, Miami won the game with a chip-shot 24-yard field goal, ending the game with a final score of 25-24. In just their first five games, Tech lost two heartbreaking contests by a grand total of two points — games that they definitely could have won.

Another hokie upset

After some disappointing losses, Tech came out ready to play against the No. 17 Virginia Tech Hokies, ready for their annual improbable victory. TaQuon Marshall scored both touchdowns for the Jackets in the first half. A Hokie field goal along with a touchdown and a failed two- point conversion set the halftime score at 14-9 favoring the Jackets. Marshall had two impressive pass plays that were successfully completed by Brad Stewart and Ricky Jeune for touchdowns, and in perhaps the most important play of the game, Ajani Kerr swatted down a fourth-down Hokie pass in the end zone to finalize the Yellow Jacket victory and an upset over the other Tech with a final score of 28-22.

Destitute in Durham

By the time the Jackets played the Duke Blue Devils, the 5-4 team knew that winning the game would make them bowl eligible. The kicker? That Duke was 4-6 after a 4-0 start, dealing with a six-game losing streak they desperately wanted to put to rest. Though Tech was predicted to win and was considered the better team of the two, Duke came out ready to play and defeated the Jackets in a shocking 43-20 decision that brought Tech a step closer to the brink.

In the last game of the season, the 5-5 Tech team had one last chance to become bowl eligible against No. 7 UGA. The odds were not in Tech’s favor preceding the game, but the Jackets held their own throughout the first half, heading into halftime down just 17-7. The Bulldogs dominated the second half though, essentially shutting down Tech’s offense and successfully preventing the Jackets from scoring again for the rest of the game. The 38-7 loss to UGA ended Tech’s 2017 season the very opposite way the previous regular season had concluded: without a win against their biggest rival and without a bowl berth.

With the 2018 schedule just released, it is hard to know when the crucial moments for this season will manifest themselves, but they will certainly happen.