Pass play catches UNC off-guard in loss to Georgia Tech

Georgia Tech North Carolina Football
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Georgia Tech's Qua Searcy (1) congratulates Nathan Cottrell (31) following Cottrell's touchdown against North Carolina during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Chapel Hill, N.C., Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Georgia Tech North Carolina Football-1

Sports Writer

Saturday, November 3, 2018

It was bound to happen.

Georgia Tech isn’t a high school football team, after all.

The Yellow Jackets this season have found a way to have a wildly productive offense while at the same time completely neglecting any pass elements. But at some point, GT would have to throw. It was only a matter of when.

Sure enough, the Jackets picked their moment early in the second quarter, and burned North Carolina for an 86-yard pass-and-catch touchdown. It was the first of just two passes attempted by GT all game — both completions — and that was all they needed through the air as the rushing attack and timely interceptions on defense downed the Tar Heels, 38-28.

Back to that throw.

The pass has become a novelty for the Jackets, who have proven they can be an effective scoring team on the ground. Look no further than their Division I-leading 366.5 rushing yards entering the game — they finished with 461 on Saturday — or their now-41 rushing touchdowns that top every other FBS team by double digits.

No other team had 30 scores on the ground entering Saturday.

In its previous win, a 49-28 thrashing of Virginia Tech on Oct. 25, GT attempted just one pass that fell incomplete. Its most recent completed pass prior to that second-quarter touchdown against UNC was in the final drive of an Oct. 13 loss to Duke.

So there’s no reason the Tar Heels should have expected a pass there. UNC linebacker Cole Holcomb said it’s not something that he and his teammates wait for, but the senior did say it takes discipline to defend.

“It was just a thing where guys have to put their eyes in coverage, that’s what it came down to,” said Holcomb, who had a career day with 22 tackles and three forced fumbles. “This game, playing the triple-option, you have to have good eyes. If you put your eyes in the wrong place it can turn into a big play and it did.”

GT had led 14-7 by the time it attempted its first pass, opting up to that point to instead compile yards on the ground, which it did with ease. UNC had backed up the Jackets near their own end zone after a long punt, and the idea that a few defensive stops could give the Tar Heels the ball back with good field position was too much to pass up.

Once the play began, the Tar Heels defense played aggressive and got sucked in toward the line of scrimmage, expecting a run, only to watch as GT receiver Qua Searcy streaked down the middle of the field.

Searcy was all alone when he caught the ball behind the UNC secondary, then outran the pursuit for the longest passing play for Georgia Tech since 2009.

“I would say it’s a lapse,” Holcomb said of his team’s defense on that play. “And a lot of our guys want to go make a play, and in this game if you try to make a play and you don’t do your job, that’s what happens.”