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Virginia spoils Jackets' homecoming

ATLANTA - Georgia Tech alums getting their initial first-hand look at Paul Johnson's new option offense had to like what they saw during the first quarter Saturday.

Then the homecoming fun came to a jarring halt.

After touchdowns on their first two possessions, the Yellow Jackets' offense self-destructed. With the defense failing to come to the rescue against Virginia, Georgia Tech was doomed.

Given a chance to take command of the ACC's Coastal Division, the 21st-ranked Yellow Jackets saw their four-game winning streak come to an end with a 24-17 loss to the Cavaliers before 47,416 at Bobby Dodd Stadium.

"I'm really disappointed," Johnson said. "We made enough mistakes in about every area to lose the game twice over."

Quarterback Josh Nesbitt had three second-half turnovers, two on fumbles, and Georgia Tech's injury-depleted secondary - not helped by the lack of the Yellow Jackets' normal pass rush - allowed Marc Verica to pass for 270 yards and two touchdowns.

The victory was the fourth straight for Virginia and moved the Cavaliers, 5-3 overall, atop the Coastal Division with a 3-1 record. Georgia Tech is 6-2 overall and 3-2 in the ACC.

"Virginia is now in the driver's seat, I guess," Johnson said. "We could have really put ourselves in good position."

The Yellow Jackets didn't, though.

After gaining 118 yards while taking a 14-3 lead in the first quarter, Georgia Tech produced just 141 net the rest of the way. Virginia, meanwhile, totaled 396 yards, with Cedric Peerman rushing for 118 and scoring the decisive touchdown on a 3-yard run with 3:29 left.

"That's why it's a 60-minute game," said the solemn Nesbitt, who ended Tech's hope of forcing overtime with a late interception.

It was definitely a game to forget for the sophomore quarterback, who his trying to adjust to Johnson's offense. He fumbled a snap, missed an attempted handoff to Jonathan Dwyer at the Virginia 7-yard line and took three sacks for 40 yards in losses.

"I really can't believe it," Nesbitt said when asked how things could go from so good to so bad.

"We did a good job blocking on the perimeter and kept running it," Roddy Jones, who led Tech with 75 yards rushing, said of the Yellow Jackets' early success outside. "Unfortunately, they started to defend it better."

Meanwhile, Virginia also got its offense going.

The Georgia Tech defense intercepted two passes and forced a fumble that allowed a tying field goal by Scott Blair from 39 yards out with 7:34 to play. But Cavaliers were able to convert 11 of 18 third-down plays and gain nearly a 10-minute advantage in time of possession.

"Virginia showed us that we have some things to work on," said cornerback Morgan Burnett, who had his sixth interception of the season. "We have to stop teams on third down and get our offense on the field."

Of course, it was more difficult after free safety Dominique Reese missed the second half with an apparent concussion. Cornerback and secondary leader Jahi Word-Daniels was already out with a strained hamstring.

After Virginia lost three of its first four games by lopsided scores, coach Al Groh's job appeared to be in jeopardy. Now the Cavaliers' are the whacky ACC's hottest team.

"I'm very proud of the way our players responded," Groh said of the victory over Georgia Tech. "It was about as challenging as you can get after we found ourselves behind so quickly like that."

The Yellow Jackets had won 12 consecutive homecoming games and the visiting team had lost 12 of the previous 13 games in the Georgia Tech-Virginia series. But after the first quarter, none of that mattered this time.