ATLANTA - DeAndre Smelter hadn’t made a catch since Georgia Tech’s second offensive possession of the game. But the former baseball player, who in his first season as Tech’s wide receiver, came up with one of the biggest catches of his young career and allowed the Yellow Jackets to breathe a bit easier.
Smelter went up against two defenders and made a miraculous catch on third-and-long and soon after Tech went up by a pair of scores in a 21-10 victory in Atlantic Coast Conference play.
In the first meeting between the schools since a Pittsburgh win in 1976, Tech (6-3, 5-2 ACC) led just 14-10 and looked about ready to hand the ball back to Pittsburgh with plenty of time for the visitors to put together a potential go-ahead drive, but Smelter and quarterback Vad Lee hooked up on an improbable completion.
On third-and-17, Lee fired a pass downfield and Smelter came down with a 42-yard catch that set up Tech at the 12.
“Boy, did (Smelter) go up and get the last one, that was a huge play,” said Tech coach Paul Johnson, whose team won its third consecutive game. “I’m not surprised, he’s a really good athlete, he’s a gifted guy. I think he’s gong to get better the more he plays.”
Two plays later, Robert Godhigh scored virtually unharmed from 11 yards to cap a 13-play drive and put the hosts up by 11 with 2:41 left in the game.
Tom Savage, who set a career high with 25 completions and threw for 233 yards, tried to rally Pitt in the final minutes, but with under a minute to play the redshirt-senior was intercepted by Jemea Thomas.
Pittsburgh (4-4, 2-3) went three-and-out on each of its first three possessions of the first half, but it was a different story at the start of the second. Savage, who misfired on just two of 13 pass attempts in the first half, was excellent in driving Pittsburgh 59 yards in a little over three minutes. Savage completed all four of his attempts on the drive, including three to freshman Tyler Boyd, the last of which Boyd corralled in the back of the end zone for a 12-yard score that cut the deficit to 14-10.
The Panthers wouldn’t score again.
“It was tough football game, I thought our defense played tremendous,” Johnson said. “Defensively we were able to keep them out of the end zone.”
Tech forced a quick punt on the game’s opening possession, then got to work on the ground.
The Yellow Jackets got a 30-yard scamper from Godhigh on the first play from scrimmage and later, David Sims had consecutive carries for 17 yards, the last of which was a 12-yard scoring run that capped a 7-play, 64-yard drive and gave the hosts an early 7-0 lead.
Pittsburgh had a miserable opening quarter, collecting just one total yard, but the Panthers used their first possession of the second to get on the scoreboard.
A five-yard run by James Conner put Pitt in Tech territory for the first time with 12 minutes left in the half, and the visitors got to the 33 when Jeremiah Attaaochu was hit with a personal foul penalty on a late-hit. Though the drive stalled at the 27, Chris Blewett nailed a 44-yard field goal to make it a 7-3 game with 9:48 to play in the opening half.
On fourth-and-five from midfield midway through the second, Tech set up to punt, but Sean Poole instead took the snap and easily picked up a first down on a 12-yard run.
That helped Godhigh continue his excellent first half. Godhigh took a pitch and initially broke through a sea of bodies, then ran down the sideline for a 35-yard touchdown that put the Yellow Jackets up 14-3.
“It looked like he was stopped on the sideline, but he just pulled out of it and he was gone,” Johnson said of Godhigh. “Robbie’s got such a thick strong lower body, I tell him sometimes he’s vertically challenged (but) if you don’t get him down, he pulls out of a lot of tackles.”
Godhigh finished the half with 68 yards on just three carries, part of a 196-yard effort for Tech, while Pittsburgh as a team had negative-17 on the ground and just 55 total yards through the first 30 minutes. Pittsburgh defense played much better in the second half, particularly in stopping Tech’s option attack as the Yellow Jackets could only muster 80 rushing yards over the final 30 minutes.
“We just really never got in sync offensively, especially in the second half,” Johnson said. “Lost momentum big time in the third quarter.”
Tech defeated Pittsburgh for the first time since a victory in the Gator Bowl in December, 1956.