- Associated Press - Saturday, September 13, 2014

ATLANTA (AP) - With Georgia Tech cruising toward an apparent rout, many of the gold-clad fans didn’t bother hanging around for the second half.

Boy, what a comeback - and finish - they missed.

Georgia Southern scored 28 straight points after halftime to stunningly grab the lead, but the Yellow Jackets came up with a huge defensive play and pulled out a 42-38 victory when Justin Thomas threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Deon Hill with 23 seconds remaining Saturday.

“It’s kind of a bittersweet feeling,” Georgia Tech’s Zach Laskey said. “We won the game, but it kind of feels like we lost.”

Thomas’ fourth TD pass of the game - by a team known for its triple-option running attack - kept the Yellow Jackets (3-0) from a hugely embarrassing loss to a state school they were playing for the first time.

After trailing 35-10 at halftime, Georgia Southern (1-2) put itself in position to beat a major-conference team for the second year in a row. They shocked Florida in the Swamp last season.

But Georgia Tech’s Jamal Golden forced a fumble that gave his team the ball with 4:12 remaining, the original call of an incomplete pass overturned by a video replay. The Yellow Jackets took advantage of the big break, driving for the winning score.

On third-and-7 at the 13, Thomas avoided a blitz and got off the scoring pass to Hill.

“We came out in the first half not playing like we wanted to,” Georgia Southern quarterback Kevin Ellison said. “We came in the locker room and got our minds right. We came out with a great second half. We just didn’t come out on top.”

Georgia Southern, in the first year of its transition to college football’s top division, has now taken two Atlantic Coast Conference teams to the wire but fell short both times. In the opener, the Eagles squandered a 20-10 lead in the fourth quarter and lost to North Carolina State 24-23.

This one will hurt even more, coming against a team less than 200 miles from their Statesboro campus.

“Those guys came out in the second half with a will to win,” Georgia Tech linebacker Quayshawn Nealy said. “We got complacent.”

Thomas completed only 11 of 24 passes, but sure made the most of those that were caught. He finished with 188 yards through the air, in addition to leading Georgia Tech with 137 yards rushing.

Ellison threw for 164 yards and a touchdown, ran for 107 yards and another score, and led an option game that finished with 536 yards after dominating the final two quarters. But, according to coach Willie Fritz, Ellison sustained an injured shoulder in the fourth quarter and had to come out of the game.

Favian Upshaw, who played sparingly in the first half, was on the field for the crucial turnover when it looked as though the Eagles would drive for the clinching score.

The backup quarterback attempted an ill-advised pitch while being tackled, and Golden - despite being wrapped up by a blocker - managed to stick out a hand to bat the ball away from the intended target. Keshun Freeman fell on it for Georgia Tech, but the officials initially ruled an incomplete pass.

After a lengthy review, the call was overturned. The replay showed Upshaw’s pitch followed a straight trajectory along the 27-yard line, making it a lateral instead of a pass.

“It happened right in front of me,” Georgia Southern coach Willie Fritz said. “Hopefully they got it right.”

Georgia Tech did everything right in the first half.

Led by Thomas, who at one point had a quarterback rating of 348.8, the Yellow Jackets scored on their first five possessions. Thomas had a 5-yard touchdown run on the third snap of the game, then hooked up with Laskey on a 12-yard touchdown pass, Darren Waller on a 4-yard score, and DeAndre Smelter for a 57-yard TD.

Early in the second half, Georgia Tech’s Paul Davis was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct on a play he wasn’t even involved in, wiping out a 23-yard loss after an errant shotgun snap by the Eagles. Four players later, Ellison scored on a 32-yard run to cut the deficit to 35-17.

Suddenly seizing the momentum, the Eagles were just getting warmed up.

Matt Breida had a 2-yard touchdown run, Ellison hooked up with B.J. Johnson on a 68-yard score, and L.A. Ramsby took it in from 11 yards out with 10:46 remaining in the game. A 2-point conversion completed the 28-0 run, which put the Eagles ahead for the first time.


Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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