By PAUL NEWBERRY, AP Sports Writer
ATLANTA (AP) — TaQuon Marshall made the most of his only two completions.
And, finally, Georgia Tech won a close game.
Marshall threw a pair of long scoring passes, including an 80-yarder to Ricky Jeune with 6½ minutes remaining , and Ajani Kerr swatted away a fourth-down pass in the end zone to preserve Georgia Tech’s 28-22 upset of No. 17 Virginia Tech on Saturday.
This one felt especially good for the Yellow Jackets (5-4, 4-3 Atlantic Coast Conference), who had lost three games by a total of six points .
“Proud of our guys,” coach Paul Johnson said. “They showed a lot of grit and determination.”
It looked as though Georgia Tech was heading for another excruciating defeat when Virginia Tech rallied from a 21-9 deficit in the second half.
The Hokies (7-3, 3-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) went ahead 22-21 when Greg Stroman returned an interception 24 yards for a touchdown off a terrible pass by Marshall with 7:27 left.
The Georgia Tech quarterback made up for his mistake just two snaps later, after the Yellow Jackets fumbled the kickoff but fortuitously managed to recover after a wild scramble. Jeune got loose behind the secondary, hauled in the long throw and just managed to stick the ball inside the pylon before tumbling out of bounds.
It was the longest touchdown pass of the season for the Yellow Jackets (5-4, 4-3), surpassing Marshall’s 60-yard scoring play to Brad Stewart early in the second half . The quarterback finished 2 of 8 passing out of the triple-option.
“He made, what, two completions and they were both for touchdowns and it ended up being 140 yards?” Johnson said. “We’ll live with that. That’s a pretty good average.”
Marshall also had a pair of short touchdown runs.
On its final possession, Virginia Tech converted a pair of fourth-down plays and faced third-and-1 at the Georgia Tech 32 with plenty of time to deal the home team another tough loss.
But, on a day when he made a number of curious decisions, Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente called a pair of passes rather than running for the first down. Both were incomplete, including a deep pass down the middle for Cam Phillips that Kerr knocked away.
“We got the best matchup we could possibly get,” Fuente said. “That was as good a look as we were going to get.”
The Yellow Jackets rushed for 261 yards, led by KirVonte Benson with 86 yards on 22 carries. Nathan Cottrell had a 69-yard run, setting up Georgia Tech’s first touchdown, a 3-yard run by Marshall. The quarterback also punched it over from the 1.
Georgia Tech appeared to be driving for a clinching touchdown late in the third quarter. But a chop-block penalty against center Kenny Cooper knocked the Yellow Jackets back 15 yards, and Brenton King missed a 43-yard field goal attempt.
The Hokies took advantage — with a big helping hand from Georgia Tech.
On third-and-14, Josh Jackson threw a pass into heavy coverage. A.J. Gray and Lamont Simmons both had a shot at picking it off, but wound up tipping the ball to Eric Kumah for a 26-yard completion — eerily similar to a play that led to a 25-24 loss to Miami .
Jalen Holston’s 8-yard touchdown run on the final play of the third quarter brought the Hokies within 21-16.
Virginia Tech: Any hopes of landing a major bowl bid faded away with the Hokies’ second straight loss. A 28-10 setback at Miami the previous week knocked them out of contention for the ACC title. “Mad, upset, disappointing,” Kumah said. “We felt like we should have won.”
Georgia Tech: By knocking off a ranked team, the Yellow Jackets gave their bowl prospects a huge boost. One more win will ensure postseason eligibility.
A couple of questionable decisions by Fuente cost the Hokies crucial points in the first half.
Trailing 7-3 in the second quarter, the Virginia Tech decided to go for it on fourth-and-2 at the 8, instead of taking a chip-shot field. Backup quarterback AJ Bush attempted to run right, spun back to the left and was thrown for a 3-yard loss.
Later in the period, after Sean Savoy scored on a 14-yard run to pull the Hokies within 14-9, Fuente passed on the extra point and strangely decided to go for a 2-point conversion. Again, Virginia Tech was stopped, leaving Georgia Tech with a 14-9 halftime lead.
“I didn’t feel like we were going to have tons of opportunities to score,” Fuente said.
Virginia Tech: Returns home to face ACC rival Pitt on Saturday.
Georgia Tech: Hits the road for its final conference game against Duke.