ATHENS, Ga. — Paul Johnson dug into his bag of tricks on the biggest play of the game. Luckily for Georgia Tech, Qua Searcy had a better plan.
Searcy's improvised 6-yard run with 30 seconds to play lifted Georgia Tech to a comeback 28-27 win over Georgia on Saturday at Sanford Stadium.
Following a timeout, the sophomore running back took a handoff from Justin Thomas and rolled right on a third-down play that was supposed to be a pass back to Thomas. However, Georgia defenders sniffed out the play and two players went with Thomas.
Searcy quickly reacted, headed to the goal line and made a dive for the score that set up the winning point-after kick.
"They had JT covered, so I just saw the hole and went for it," Searcy said. "We never gave up, and we're leaving with the win."
Georgia (7-5) held a 27-14 lead entering the final quarter and appeared well on its way to winning for the seventh time in the last eight Governor Cup meetings. However, a 94-yard touchdown drive early in the fourth and a Jacob Eason tipped interception gave the Yellow Jackets (8-4) the shot at the win, and Thomas quickly led them on the 46-yard winning drive.
"I thought it was a great college football game," Johnson said. "We got a break there and were able to take advantage of it. That was a great individual play by Qua. We told him not to force it if it wasn't there, and he made a quick decision."
Georgia, which scored 20 consecutive points after Tech had taken a 14-7 lead in the second quarter, was left wondering what happened.
"We didn't finish in the fourth quarter," said Georgia coach Kirby Smart. "We just didn't play well enough to win. We've got to make some stops there, and we squandered some opportunities."
Added Eason, who was 14-for-27 for 139 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions: "I just missed it and we got a bad break with the tip. It hurts not to win a game we had in our hands."
The Georgia run game upstaged the vaunted Tech triple-option attack for most of the game. Sony Michel had a career-best 170 yards on 19 carries, with Nick Chubb adding 88 on 22 carries. Each scored a touchdown, with Chubb's 3-yard run early in the third quarter putting Georgia up 24-14.
"We ran the ball well," Smart said of Georgia's 263 yards. "We have three seniors on that front, and they all played well."
Georgia Tech, though, put up 168 yards in the final quarter, one that didn't start well for the Jackets when Georgia's David Marshall made a big stop on fourth-and-4 at the Georgia 42. The Bulldogs took over with 11:58 to play, needing only to run clock and not make mistakes.
That didn't happen. Following a three-and-out, Brice Ramsey's punt rolled to the Tech 6 and Thomas got the Jackets out of the hole with a 23-yard pass to Brad Stewart. Tech then went play-action and Thomas found Searcy wide open for a 39-yard gain to the Georgia 34.
Dedrick Mills scored four plays later on a 5-yard run, capping the 94-yard drive that took only 3:23 off the clock and cut the lead to 27-21.
Georgia began what was suddenly a crucial drive with an Eason third-down conversion on a pass to Terry Godwin. However, two plays (and Georgia's second timeout) later, Eason's pass into the flat was off target to Godwin, who tipped it into the air and into the surprised waiting arms of Tech's Lance Austin at the Georgia 46 with 3:36 remaining.
"It was a safe play and it was there," Smart said. "If we get a couple of first downs there the game is over, but the ball was behind Terry and it went off his hands."
Thomas, limited to 86 yards passing through three quarters, hit Clinton Lynch for 16 yards to the 32, and three runs moved the ball to the 10 with 1:33 to play. Runs on first and second down were stuffed, leading to the Tech timeout and ensuing Searcy game-winner.
The Bulldogs, handicapped with just one timeout, managed one first down, but Eason's last-second Hail Mary attempt fell well short and was picked off by Brant Mitchell.
"We're all kind of down," said Georgia receiver Isaiah McKenzie, who had a touchdown and two catches. "We played this game for the seniors and everybody wanted to win so they could go out with a good win, but it didn't happen."
Contact Lindsey Young at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 423-757-6296; follow on Twitter @youngsports22