ATLANTA — Already a bit short-handed at safety with senior Isaiah Johnson still having not yet returned from offseason knee surgery, Georgia Tech had to dig deep even further on defense, and specifically at that position, in Saturday’s 28-20 win over North Carolina.
Both starting safeties, Jamal Golden and Chris Milton, along with starting linebacker Quayshawn Nealy, were forced to leave the game with unspecified injuries in the first half.
However, the Yellow Jackets got a boost from reserves like redshirt sophomore safeties Dominique Noble (1 tackle, 1 pass breakup) and Desmond Smith (2 tackles) and true freshman linebacker Paul Davis (3 tackles) to aid in a defensive effort that held North Carolina to just 62 yards and no points in the second half.
“They stepped up and played big,” Tech coach Paul Johnson said of his young reserves. “They played pretty much the whole game. We lost both of our other safeties early. We lost Quayshawn early in the first series, so we’ve got true freshmen (and sophomores) out there banging.
“Those kids — the moment wasn’t too big for them. They stepped up and played. That’s why we recruited them.”
While he hasn’t even appeared on the depth chart since undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery a year ago and then switching positions to A-Back, redshirt junior Charles Perkins saw quite a bit of snaps in the second half Saturday.
The Collins Hill grad had just one carry, though it was a big one — a 26-yard gain down to the North Carolina 16-yard line that helped set up a Vad Lee touchdown, which gave the Jackets the lead for good at 21-20 with 5:52 left in the third quarter.
Perkins also had a key block to help spring Robert Godhigh for 48 of his game-high 100 yards on Tech’s next possession, which resulted in another score that helped give the Jackets breathing room.
“We wanted to get him out there. It wasn’t just by necessity,” Johnson said of Perkins. “Charles has worked really hard. I can’t say enough good things about him. He’s come back from what was major, major surgery on his shoulder and worked his tail off and just came to practice every day. I’m so happy he’s contributing and playing the way he’s playing right now.”
Another Gwinnett grad, defensive lineman Shawn Green, also saw his first action of the season after coming back from an offseason shoulder injury Saturday.
Though the Grayson grad only saw a few snaps, he did record a tackle on the afternoon.
While North Carolina has a few former Gwinnett high school standouts on its roster, only Nathan Staub saw the field.
The Buford grad had four tackles on the day for the Tar Heels, including one for loss.
Those fans listening to radio broadcasts of Saturday’s games, both at and away from Bobby Dodd Stadium, noticed a notable absence.
For the first time since 1970, a member of the Durham family was not calling the action in a game pitting the Jackets and the Tar Heels.
Woody Durham retired in 2011 after 40 years as the voice of North Carolina football and basketball.
His son, Wes, missed the matchup for the first time since leaving Tech after 19 years behind the mic to take a job with Fox Sports. He was calling the action for the Syracuse-Tulane game Saturday at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, N.Y.
Centennial celebration (almost)
While Tech is commemorating the 100th year of football at Bobby Dodd Stadium this season, Jacket fans nearly got to see a centennial celebration of a different kind Saturday.
With Godhigh having already reached the 100-yard rushing mark on the day during Tech’s final clock-draining drive of the day, senior B-back David Sims was just a single yard away after running for 99 yards on 17 carries, though he wasn’t aware of it.
That, along with the fact Tech was merely trying to close out a close win, is a big reason he never got another carry after his 8-yard gain with just under five minutes to play.
“I’ve I’d known about it, I probably would’ve tried to lobby for (another carry),” Sims joked. “As long as we get the victory, I’m happy. This is the second time (finishing a yard short of 100) has happened. It happened (in last year’s Sun Bowl) against USC. It is what it is.”