Our Games of the Decade series continues with one of the more improbable wins in recent Tennessee history against Georgia Tech. Check out No. 6: 2013 South Carolina here.
This football game, to put it simply, was insane.
The highly anticipated Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game between Tennessee and Georgia Tech was played on September 4, 2017, in the brand new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
With the Volunteers ranked No. 25 and the Yellow Jackets not thought to be far behind, it shaped up to be a great game between pretty evenly matched opponents.
The teams traded punts for much of the first quarter until the Jackets unfurled a 12-play, 86-yard drive, capped with quarterback TaQuon Marshall scoring his first touchdown of the night with 0:06 remaining in the first quarter.
Tennessee answered in the second quarter after recovering a Tech fumble just inside midfield. The Vols’ 46-yard drive ended with a John Kelly 1-yard touchdown run to tie the game 7-7.
Tech got the ball back with 8:11 left in the first half and proceeded to use almost the entire time en route to the end zone. The Jackets outdid their first 12-play touchdown drive with a 16-play drive which took 7:00 and covered 75 yards and gave Tech a 14-7 lead at halftime.
Tech followed up its touchdown at the end of the first half with another long touchdown drive to open the second half and take a 21-7 lead on Marshall’s second touchdown run.
At the end of the third quarter, Tennessee answered again when Quentin Dormady connected with Marquez Callaway for a 10-yard touchdown and bring the Vols back within seven.
In the 4th quarter, TaQuon Marshall once again put the ball in the end zone against the Tennessee defense, putting Tech up 28-14 with 13:08 to go. Georgia Tech’s win expectancy rose to 94.5% after the score.
But once again, the Vols answered quickly, with Marquez Callaway hauling in his second touchdown reception on a 50-yard catch-and-run to bring Tennessee back within a touchdown.
Georgia Tech looked like it had put the game away late in the 4th quarter when J.J. Green broke a 36-yard run deep into Tennessee territory, with even just a field goal likely effectively ending the game. But at the end of the run, the ball was punched out by Rashaan Gaulden and recovered by Micah Abernathy to give Tennessee another chance.
But with the ball on its own 7-yard line and less than 5:00 to go, Tennessee was going to need an incredible drive to tie the game.
The big play came when Dormady once again came up with a big completion to Callaway. The 40-yard reception got Tennessee down to the Tech 27-yard line.
John Kelly took over from there, taking just two plays to get the ball into the end zone to tie the game 28-28 with just 1:29 remaining.
But in keeping with the tradition of this wacky game, Tech had another opportunity. The Yellow Jackets got the ball to midfield quickly, and eventually found themselves at the Tennessee 19-yard line with 0:03 left.
Teck kicker Shawn Davis lined up for the potentially game-winning 36-yard field goal. But it wasn’t high enough, and Tennessee reserve defensive lineman Paul Bain reached up and swatted it away to send the game into overtime.
The Jackets and Vols traded rushing touchdowns by TaQuon Marshall and John Kelly in the first overtime, sending to game to double overtime tied at 35.
In the second overtime, each team’s star scored once again. A Kelly touchdown put the Volunteers up 42-35, before Marshall answered with a touchdown to make the score 42-41.
Instead of kicking the extra point to head to a third overtime, Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson chose to attempt a 2-point conversion to win the game.
Marshall rolled out to his right with his fullback KirVonte Benson ready to take the pitch, but Marshall kept the ball and was brought down short of the end zone. Had he pitched the ball, Benson likely would have scored.
But after all the drama, Tennessee left Atlanta with the season-opening victory.
You have to go watch the game again to recall just how improbable the win was, given that Georgia Tech out-gained Tennessee by nearly 300 yards, won the time of possession battle by more than 20:00 and gained 33 first downs to Tennessee’s 18.
The game seemed at the time like a heavyweight bout between two potential Top 10 teams. However, it ended up being a matchup between teams which finished 4-8 and 5-6.
While the 2017 was obviously disappointing, this game was nothing short of a thrilling renewal of an old rivalry.