Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Georgia Tech's Logan Walls (96) and Jason Peters, right, take down Western Carolina's Michael Vaughn during the first half of Thursday's game at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta.
There was plenty for Georgia Tech football players, coaches and fans alike to be pleased with in the Yellow Jackets' 2011 season opener against Western Carolina on Thursday night at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
Certainly the 63-21 final score in favor of the home team was a positive.
The Jackets also had to be happy with their much-scrutinized passing game. Tevin Washington completed 8 of 13 passes for 271 yards and three touchdowns, four of which went to Stephen Hill for 84 yards and two scores, while back-up quarterback Synjyn Days completed all three of his pass attempts 94 yards.
The overall offensive numbers were just as impressive, with 662 total yards, the second most in Tech history.
And the way Tech was able to score with quick strikes -- six scoring drives of five or fewer plays taking up 1:38 or less, plus 10 overall plays of 20 yards or more -- plus a defensive effort that produced four sacks and three turnovers and held the Catamounts to just 301 yards also had to produce smiles on the faces of many among the crowd of 42,132.
But there were also rough patches on the evening, including a pair of turnovers that led to seven Western Carolina points, four other fumbles that were recovered by the Jackets and a blocked field goal that was returned for a touchdown.
Still, Tech (1-0) was solid most of the evening, especially after building a big early lead during a first quarter in which the Jackets rolled up 28 points, the most in a single period since they put up the same amount against Samford on Sept. 8, 2007, in rapid-fire fashion and outgained the Catamounts 256-55.
And it was the defense that got the Jackets off to a rousing start.
After stuffing Western Carolina on two straight running plays, Brandon Watts sprinted around the right end and got to Catamounts quarterback Brandon Pwechloff, which Quayshawn Nealy recovered on the 5-yard line.
It took the Jackets only one play and six seconds to cash in as Orwin Smith took a toss and sped around the right end and into the end zone to give Tech a 7-0 lead just 1:18 after the opening kickoff.
And after a three-and-out on Western Carolina's next possession, it took Tech just four plays and 1:38 to strike again.
This time, the big play came when Tevin Washington sent a quick pass wide to the right to Stephen Hill, who brushed off a would-be tackler and went the distance for an 82-yard touchdown, pushing the Jackets' lead to 14-0 with 10:07 still left in the opening frame.
Smith then popped off another big play just two snaps into Tech's third possession.
This time, the junior A-back took a pitch from Washington and dashed 77 yards for the score to make the Jackets' lead 21-0 with 6:38 left in the quarter.
The second team then got in on the act on Tech's next possession as Synjyn Days completed a 66-yard throw and catch to Tyler Melton before running into the end zone himself from 7 yards out with 3:02 left, giving Tech a 28-0 lead by the end of the period.
But as nearly flawless as the majority of the first quarter was for the Jackets, the second was less than a thing of beauty.
The first thing to go wrong was Collins Hill grad Charles Perkins fumbling on his first collegiate carry and Rainey Ala recovered for Western Carolina at the Tech 31.
A 7-yard sack by Jeremiah Attachou helped the Jackets defense force a punt, but Euclid Cummings inexplicably tried to field a bouncing ball on the kick, which Western Carolina recovered to take over on the Tech 4.
An illegal substation penalty later, Pwechloff scored on a 2-yard keeper to put the Catamounts on the board at 28-7 just 21 seconds into the second quarter.
Western Carolina then mounted a 13-play, 64-yard drive midway through the period before scoring on Michael Vaughn's 4-yard run to pull to within 35-14 with 3:34 left in the half.
And a 69-yard touchdown return of a blocked field goal by Isaiah Moore on the final play end ended the half on a sour note, but the Jackets still took a 42-21 lead into intermission.