ATLANTA — Tennessee got down.
Somehow, it never went out.
Georgia Tech’s flexbone rushing attack dealt the Volunteers blow after blow Monday night in the season opener for both teams at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Tennessee survived them all and inflicted a few of its own to come out with an improbable 42-41 instant-classic, double-overtime victory to cap college football’s opening weekend.
A Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game crowd of 75,107 witnessed the Vols fall behind 28-14 in the fourth quarter before a walk-on transfer from Division II’s Tusculum College forced overtime with a blocked field goal as regulation ended.
With the game tied, Tech’s Shawn Davis attempted a 36-yard kick as the final three seconds ticked off the clock. Vols reserve defensive tackle Paul Bain raised a hand and blocked it.
Both teams scored a touchdown in the first overtime. Both teams scored a touchdown in the second overtime, too.
Georgia Tech could have tied the game with an extra point at the end of the second overtime. Instead, the Yellow Jackets elected to go for two and the win. Quarterback TaQuon Marshall was planted by Tennessee defensive end Darrell Taylor while attempting a low pass to KirVonte Benson. The pass hit the ground, ending the game and sending Tennessee’s players surging onto the field in celebration.
A few moments later, Tennessee’s team captains hoisted the game’s trophy near midfield as the Pride of the Southland Band played Rocky Top, a celebration that followed plenty of gut-wrenching action for Vols fans.
For months, Tennessee’s defenders prepared for Georgia Tech’s triple-option-heavy offense, knowing the challenge their opening opponent presented. For Tech’s first two series, it appeared the advance preparation had benefited the Vols.
For the rest of the game, the Jackets ran over, around and through the Tennessee defense in exhausting and methodical fashion.
A few unforced errors helped the Vols stay in the game, however. Down 21-7 in the third quarter, the Vols benefited from a chop-block penalty that set a Tech drive back and led to a missed field-goal attempt by Davis.
Tennessee took possession and drove 70 yards on seven plays, capping it with a 10-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Quinten Dormady to sophomore receiver Marquez Callaway.
The score helped Tennessee overcome a sluggish offensive start, thanks in part to Callaway’s emergence. The sophomore’s leaping 40-yard catch with 2:49 remaining positioned Tennessee to tie the game at 28-all on an 11-yard John Kelly touchdown run with 1:29 remaining.
Callaway’s game-tying touchdown followed a key fumble by Tech’s J.J. Green that came as the Jackets were driving towards a potential two-touchdown lead.
“You know, the second half, obviously Marquez Callaway, what can I say about that individual,” Tennessee coach Butch Jones said. “He sparked us and made some very, very key plays for us, obviously.”
After Kelly’s game-tying score, Tech used the remaining time to drive into scoring position to set up its game-winning attempt that Bain blocked.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been in a game where you run 90 plays, get 655 yards and lose,” Jackets coach Paul Johnson said.
In his first start, Dormady overcame several first-half drops to complete 20 of 37 passes for 221 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Kelly ran for 130 yards and four touchdowns on 19 carries in his first game as Tennessee’s featured back. He scored both overtime touchdowns.
“I think this football team showed our grit, but we’re continuing to evolve,” Jones said. “We talked about three games in 13 days. We have to turn around now with a short work week and get into Neyland (Stadium) Saturday afternoon. We have to get a lot better and make tremendous progress, but just really proud of our players.”
Contact David Cobb at email@example.com.
HOW THEY SCORED
ATLANTA — Staff writer David Paschall examines the scoring drives from Tennessee’s 42-41 double-overtime win over Georgia Tech on Monday night:
GT — TaQuon Marshall 1-yard run (Shawn Davis kick), 0:06
Drive: 12 plays, 86 yards, 6:51
Key play: The Yellow Jackets didn’t have a first down through two possessions but moved the chains for the first time on KirVonte Benson’s 15-yard run up the middle on third-and-2 to the Georgia Tech 37. Three plays later, they converted a third-and-12 on Marshall’s 44-yard pass to Ricky Jeune to the Tennessee 21.
GEORGIA TECH 7, TENNESSEE 0
TN — John Kelly 1-yard run (Aaron Medley kick), 8:11
Drive: 8 plays, 46 yards, 2:30
Key play: After Tennessee linebacker Daniel Bituli caused a Marshall fumble that fellow linebacker Cortez McDowell recovered at the Tech 46, Quinten Dormady connected with Jauan Jennings for 5 yards on third-and-3 to the 34. On the next play, Kelly picked up the biggest gain of the first half for the Volunteers with a 22-yard run to the 12.
GEORGIA TECH 7, TENNESSEE 7
GT — Benson 1-yard run (Davis kick), 1:11
Drive: 16 plays, 75 yards, 7:00
Key play: Marshall had the drive’s biggest gain with a first-and-10 scramble for 12 yards to the Tennessee 16-yard line, but the key play was another Marshall run on third-and-9 that gained 10 yards to the 5.
GEORGIA TECH 14, TENNESSEE 7
GT — Marshall 1-yard run (Davis kick), 9:19
Drive: 11 plays, 80 yards, 5:36
Key play: Marshall continued to befuddle the Vols, keeping and winding his way for a 28-yard run to the Vols’ 6.
GEORGIA TECH 21, TENNESSEE 7
TN — Marquez Callaway 10-yard pass from Dormady (Medley kick), 0:42
Drive: 7 plays, 70 yards, 2:32
Key play: Dormady converted a third-and-3 with a 14-yard pass to tight end Ethan Wolf to the Tech 35, and Kelly followed on the ensuing play with a 30-yard burst through the left side that set up a first-and-goal from the 5.
GEORGIA TECH 21, TENNESSEE 14
GT — Marshall 6-yard run (Davis kick), 13:08
Drive: 7 plays, 75 yards, 2:34
Key play: A Nathan Cottrell 14-yard run to midfield got the Jackets going, but the big play was Marshall dropping back and finding Qua Searcy past Micah Abernathy for a 42-yard connection to the 7.
GEORGIA TECH 28, TENNESSEE 14
TN — Callaway 50-yard pass from Dormady (Medley kick), 11:49
Drive: 5 plays, 61 yards, 1:15
Key play: Dormady and Kelly converted a third-and-9 with a 10-yard pass connection to midfield to set up the touchdown to Callaway, who used a stiff-arm on Lance Austin before racing down the sideline to the end zone.
GEORGIA TECH 28, TENNESSEE 21
TN — Kelly 11-yard run (Medley kick), 1:29
Drive: 7 plays, 93 yards, 3:21
Key play: After Abernathy recovered a J.J. Green fumble at the Tennessee 7, the Vols went to work on the tying drive. The big gain was a 40-yard pass from Dormady to Callaway, who jumped and snagged the ball at Tech’s 27-yard line to attain 100 receiving yards for the night.
GEORGIA TECH 28, TENNESSEE 28
GT — Marshall 1-yard run (Davis kick)
Drive: 5 plays, 25 yards
Key play: Cottrell took an option pitch and went 12 yards to the 13 on the first play of overtime.
GEORGIA TECH 35, TENNESSEE 28
TN — Kelly 1-yard run (Medley kick)
Drive: 3 plays, 25 yards
Key play: Dormady fielded a high snap and handed off to Kelly, who powered ahead for 18 yards to the Georgia Tech 1.
GEORGIA TECH 35, TENNESSEE 35
TN — Kelly 2-yard run (Medley kick)
Drive: 3 plays, 25 yards
Key play: Dormady and Callaway — who else? — connected on a 15-yard pass to Georgia Tech’s 9-yard line.
TENNESSEE 42, GEORGIA TECH 41
GT — Marshall 13-yard run (pasa failed)
Drive: 4 plays, 25 yards
Key play: Marshall kept around right end for his fifth rushing score of the game.