Jackets hold on to Heels

GoJackets.com covers Saturday's UNC-Georgia Tech game

Jackets hold on to Heels
Georgia Tech fans could be excused for getting a bit grumbly late in Saturday's 27-21 win over North Carolina. After all, they had watched the Jackets thump the Tar Heels pretty soundly, save for one long catch-and-run. Yet there the Tech defense was again, clinging desperately to a late lead while the offense seemed to take an early shower.

That was understandable last week against Auburn, a Top 25 team with a 15-game winning streak, seethed the cranky folks in yellow. Not so much against North Carolina, a bowl team last year solely by dint of geography.

Then the Jacket defense went on another fourth-quarter interception binge, and all was well.

After the specter of collapse faded, Sunday's memories of the game seemed much rosier. Tech had demonstrated 47 minutes of the loveliest offense since Joe Hamilton graced the Flats.

Junior quarterback Reggie Ball played like a Heisman Trophy candidate -- way better, if you consider D.J. Shockley a Heisman hopeful -- after a first-drive interception was overruled by the replay official. Ball threw for a career-high 320 yards with two touchdowns, and cartwheeled in for another score on a third-and-10 rollout. He distributed the ball to eight different receivers and threw no interceptions.

"For the first three and a half quarters, he engineered drives and just played really well," said Tech head coach Chan Gailey. "We hit some short passes, some up the middle, and some deep. I give Reggie a lot of credit for making the right reads and getting the ball to the right guys."

Tech's offense was shut down on its last four possessions, unable to run or pass for a first down. Gailey said Carolina's big defensive front had something to do with that, as Tech's smallish offensive line wore down in the 90-degree heat on the field.

Tailback P. J. Daniels got his second 100-yard rushing game in as many tries, despite being kept nearly idle in Tech's last four futile possessions. He also caught a short pass for a touchdown.

But the biggest offensive surprise was former QB Damarius Bilbo. The senior caught eight passes for 131 yards, including a spectacular 48-yard touchdown. And he hit Ball with a gorgeous 33-yard pass on an end-around throwback.

"He really showed us what we thought he could be," Gailey said. Gailey did not reveal whether Bilbo is scheduled to drive the team bus when Tech travels to Virginia Tech in two weeks.

All-world receiver Calvin Johnson was merely sensational, catching six passes for 114 yards, occasionally drawing single coverage as the defense began to notice that Bilbo was stomping on their heads with spiked boots. "We have two great receivers out there now and I look forward to seeing how teams are going to cover us," Johnson said.

A faint, distant whimpering sound was audible, coming from the direction of Storrs, Connecticut.

Tech's totaled 475 yards of offense and held the ball for 33 minutes. Punter Ben Arndt continued to exercise his new bionic leg, averaging 47.4 yards on nine punts, while Tech's kickoffs improved considerably over the Auburn game.

The Jacket defense stuffed the wonderfully named tailback tandem of Barrington Edwards and Cooter Arnold... don't they sound like characters from a bad buddy movie? A Harvard-trained stockbroker partnered with a Mississippi muskrat trapper? To fight crime?

Anyway, they combined for 50 of the Tar Heels' 61 rushing yards.

Despite all this, the annoying Tar Heels refused to go home. Carolina's grizzled career backup quarterback, senior Matt Baker, kept the couple thousand baby-blue fans in attendance hopeful in his first start. Baker took over late in the second quarter, trailing 14-0, by engineering a 64-yard drive and capping it with his first career rushing touchdown on a 9-yard scramble.

Tech's defense, which otherwise played well, then missed two tackles on a simple out pattern after backing Carolina up to its 13. The result was an 87-yard Derrele Mitchell touchdown that tied the game at halftime. Altogether, Baker threw for 280 yards and two touchdowns, including a perfect fade to Jarwarski Pollock to bring Carolina within six points with four minutes left.

But the Tech secondary's speed eventually exposed Baker's inadequacies. Two interceptions at Tech's goal line turned back late threats, and a sack forced Baker on his last snap to toss up a hopeless duck, which safety Dawan Landry tucked away to seal the win.

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