The final play was a most unfitting way for TaQuon Marshall to end his brilliant debut as Georgia Tech’s starting quarterback.
Flinging the ball toward a teammate in a desperation heave.
Flat on his back after a broken play.
Up to then, Marshall had turned in one of the greatest performances in school history.
Officially named the starter just minutes before the first game of the season, the junior carried the ball a staggering 44 times for 249 yards and five touchdowns against Tennessee on Monday night. He also passed for 120 yards, completing 5 of 9 and showing a surprisingly strong arm out of the triple-option offense.
It was the most rushing yards ever by a Georgia Tech quarterback, breaking the mark of 199 set by Eddie Prokop in the 1944 Sugar Bowl. It was the most touchdowns scored by any Yellow Jackets player, regardless of position.
It was all for naught.
The Volunteers rallied from a pair of two-touchdown deficits in the second half before surviving 42-41 in double overtime, stuffing Marshall on a 2-point conversion attempt when the Yellow Jackets decided to go for the win rather than settle for a tying PAT.
“He played his tail off,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said. “He played tremendously.”
Until the end, but that wasn’t totally his fault.
Marshall took the snap at the 3 and rolled right, looking for a hole. The blocking broke down, leaving him with no chance to get to the end zone. As he was about to go down, he flipped the ball toward KirVonte Benson in a desperate bid to salvage something. The ball touched the turf, prompting the nearest official to immediately signal an incomplete pass even though it looked like a possible lateral.
Benson grabbed the ball and tried to power into the end zone. It wasn’t clear if he got in.
It didn’t matter.
Game over .
“We had numbers of the backside. Reversed out and tried to get outside of it. Then overran it and I thought I could get up under it,” Marshall said. “It might have been a little selfish of me.”
Johnson didn’t really see if that way. He said there were several breakdowns on the play and didn’t even complain about the lack of a video review to determine if Marshall lateralled the ball.
“That should have been a walk-in,” the coach said. “We screwed that up, so we didn’t deserve to win.”
Maybe not, but it wasn’t because of Marshall.
He scored three touchdowns in regulation and added scoring plays of 1 and 13 yards in the extra periods.
“He’s very talented, very quick, very, very elusive, and a very good football player,” Tennessee coach Butch Jones said. “They did a great job with some triple-option stuff and trap option, getting him out on the perimeter.”
Leading up to the game, Johnson declined to name a starter among four quarterbacks battling for the chance to replace three-year starter Justin Thomas . The most experienced of the group was Matthew Jordan, the top backup the last two seasons and starter in a 2016 upset at Virginia Tech when Thomas was injured.
But Johnson had decided several weeks ago that Marshall was his guy. The coach passed it on to the players but told everyone to keep it on the down low.
The fans didn’t know who would start until Marshall trotted on the field at Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the first offensive series.
“It was exciting to get out there, especially in a big game,” he said. “After the first couple of draws, I calmed down. I got into a groove.”
Marshall did have one big miscue, losing a fumble in the second quarter that the Vols recovered at the Georgia Tech 46, leading to their first touchdown.
But the Yellow Jackets still had no business losing this game given their total domination on the stat sheet. They rushed for 535 yards, finished with a 655-369 edge in total yards, and totally dominated time of possession in regulation, holding the ball for nearly 41½ of the 60 minutes.
Now, after a Labor Day opener that lasted until nearly midnight, Georgia Tech had a short week to prepare for its next game, hosting FCS school Jacksonville State on Saturday.
“It’s going to be in the back of my mind that we should have won,” Marshall said. “But I’ve got to move on from this.”
After all, he’s just getting started.
“It’s exciting to lead the team,” Marshall said. “I’m looking forward to doing great things this season.”
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/paul%20newberry
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