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Tech can't hold on after comeback

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. - Georgia Tech's Jamal Lewis wants his teammates to take Saturday's 28-23 loss to Virginia and "flush it down the toilet."

The danger is in the rest of the season swirling away with it.

A season that started as promising as any in this century began to spiral on the Yellow Jackets in the horror house that is Virginia's Scott Stadium. Poised to rebound from last week's humbling 14-point loss to Boston College, the Jackets invented ways to lose to the Cavaliers.

Like fumbling a punt to set up the eventual game-winning touchdown.

Like jumping before the snap to turn a fourth-and-one play into a fourth-and-six with less than five minutes to go.

Like failing to finish off tackle after tackle on a 210-pound tailback.

Like falling behind 21-7 in the first quarter.

Like starting Atlantic Coast Conference play 0-2 after winning two non-conference games by an average of 42 points.

"You talk about a morale disrupter ..." Georgia Tech quarterback Taylor Bennett said, his voice trailing off. "To be 2-2, from where we were and as good as we are, is just something that wasn't expected."

No, this was odd even for a game played at Scott Stadium. The last time Georgia Tech left Charlottesville with a victory, Virginia was ranked No. 1 in the country and the Yellow Jackets won 41-38 on a field goal in the waning seconds.

Saturday lacked those kind of fireworks. Mistakes and miscues by both teams marked the game instead, with Georgia Tech managing the last two.

The Yellow Jackets led 23-21 with nine minutes to go and were set to receive a punt around their 25-yard line. Return man Andrew Smith, in the game because starter Tyler Evans suffered an injury early in the game, decided against calling for a fair catch even as Virginia's Aaron Clark beared down on him.

Clark hit Smith a second after he fielded the ball, knocking it loose and pulling Smith away from the fumble. Virginia's Patch Duda recovered. The Cavaliers took the 28-23 lead on the next play, with quarterback Jameel Sewell hitting Stanton Jobe with a 25-yard touchdown pass.

"I was just trying to make a play and get us good field position," Smith said. "I tried to make a move before I secured the ball and he got on me pretty quick. I have to give it to him because he was in my face."

Georgia Tech's offense almost helped Smith save face two series later. Smith returned a punt 11 yards to midfield, and Bennett quickly moved Georgia Tech into the red zone. He scrambled for 13 yards on a third-down-and-14 play, diving for the first-down marker and coming up two feet short.

Georgia Tech wide receiver Correy Earls suffered a neck injury while blocking for Bennett on the play. The game was delayed for approximately 20 minutes while Earls was placed on a stretcher and taken off the field.

Whether it was the long wait or the fact that he'd practiced as a blocking tight end for only a few days, Derrick Morgan jumped before the snap on the fourth-and-one. Morgan, a true freshman defensive end, drew the penalty, and Virginia's Chris Long sacked Bennett on the ensuing fourth-and-six conversion try.

"It kills you," Bennett said of the penalty. "You worked really hard to get those 91⁄4 yards and all you need is 3/4s of a yard and all the sudden you need 53⁄4. It'll kill you. It kills the momentum, but then again you have to come back and convert it."

The Yellow Jackets could have tried a 38-yard field goal, a chip shot for Travis Bell, who'd already made kicks of 30, 43 and 51 yards in the game. The Jackets had three timeouts remaining, and the touchdown after the muffed punt was the only thing the defense had given up since the first quarter.

Gailey said he never considered the field goal, though. Bell knew why.

"Everything we needed came down to scoring a touchdown there," he said. "They had the momentum on their home field. We needed the six points. We get that, it's over."

But they failed. The Yellow Jackets got the ball back with 1 minute, 51 seconds let, but a holding penalty put them in a first-and-20 situation. Then on third down, wide receiver Demaryius Thomas dropped a pass that likely would have gone for a first down.

An incompletion on fourth down essentially ended the game.

The late shortfalls overshadowed an otherwise solid performance by the Yellow Jackets. The offense played all but the first two series without tailback Tashard Choice, who pulled himself out of the game because he aggravated the hamstring injury he first suffered in the BC loss.

His backup, Jonathan Dwyer, ran for 75 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. Bennett threw for 230 yards, spreading the ball around to six different receivers. Thomas caught the Yellow Jackets' first touchdown pass of the season, a 56-yarder on the game's first series.

Georgia Tech's defense stuffed Virginia after a horrific first quarter. The Cavaliers totaled 174 yards in the first 15 minutes, 179 the rest of the game. The Yellow Jacket defense also forced two turnovers. The touchdown pass following the muffed punt was Virginia's lone offensive highlight in the final three quarters.

Still, Georgia Tech showed warts. The offense was 3 of 15 on third down. Bennett looked sharp at times but finished with 17 completions in 40 attempts and had an interception returned for a touchdown.

The offensive line gave up two sacks and Virginia's defense hurried Bennett on several occasions, often hitting him hard a spilt second after he threw.

And the defense failed to slow the Atlantic Coast Conference's leading rusher, Virginia's Cedric Peerman. He had 138 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries. He routinely turned minus or short-yardage runs into five-to-10-yard gains.

"Cedric was awesome," said Sewell, the Virginia quarterback. "He was breaking tackles in the backfield, and making big plays. He always knows where the marker is and can go get the first down for us."

Georgia Tech, meanwhile, is just down.

"This is tough, but we just have to stay up," Lewis said. "We have to keep our heads up and focus on what's ahead of us. We need to come together as a team and get some unity."

The Yellow Jackets must find togetherness fast. Undefeated Clemson visits Bobby Dodd Stadium next Saturday. Georgia Tech is unlikely to weather a 31-7 beating from the Tigers like it did last season, when the Clemson loss was the Yellow Jackets' lone conference defeat.

"We just have to come back hungry," Georgia Tech's Dwyer said. "We gave it all we had. We fought and we fought until the game was over. That's the kind of attitude we need."