CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — It's hardly a formula for success: Turn the ball over five times, get beat at your own ball-control game, and let the opponent's quarterback and receivers have record days.
But somehow it worked for resilient Georgia Tech, which got several explosive plays from its triple-option offense and a couple of key stops from its highly rated defense to defeat Virginia 35-25 on Saturday.
Zach Laskey and David Sims each ran for two touchdowns and Robert Godhigh ran for another for Georgia Tech (5-3, 4-2 Atlantic Coast Conference), which never trailed and responded every time Virginia made it close. The Yellow Jackets, who entered the game second nationally in time of possession and 12th in yardage allowed, had the ball nearly 10 minutes less than Virginia and surrendered 444 yards — more than 100 more than their average.
Virginia's David Watford was 43-of-61 for 376 yards and two touchdowns, setting school records for completions and attempts, and Darius Jennings and Tim Smith became the only receiving duo in Cavaliers history with at least 10 receptions each.
Yet the Yellow Jackets still found a way to win.
"It was kind of a crazy game with all of the turnovers and penalties," said Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson, who was particularly exasperated with a roughing-the-punter penalty that kept a Virginia touchdown drive alive. "We couldn't get ourselves off the field defensively, but we weren't giving up a lot of points, so we were able to hang in."
The Cavaliers got no points off Georgia Tech's five turnovers, four of them coming in the first half. Two gambles that failed near the goal line were huge.
The first one came on Virginia's second possession of the game. The Cavaliers lined up for a 32-yard field-goal try on third-and-6, but an offsides penalty against Georgia Tech made it fourth-and-1. The crowd pleaded with coach Mike London to go for the first down. He obliged, but Watford overthrew fullback Billy Scrobacz in the flat.
Then late in the first half, trailing 14-10, the Cavaliers were at the Georgia Tech 2 after a pass interference penalty in the end zone. Kevin Parks was stuffed at the 1, and the Cavaliers called their final timeout. Rather than settle for the chip-shot field goal, London chose to go for the touchdown. Parks was stopped short, and the Yellow Jackets jubilantly sprinted to the locker room with their lead intact and with the momentum.
"It obviously is hard to look back on the game and reflect on those missed opportunities," London said.
The game started with a here-we-go again feeling as the Yellow Jackets, who scored on the first play of the game in last year's victory over Virginia, needed only three plays to go the length of the field and take a 7-0 led on David Sims' 36-yard touchdown run.
But the offense seemed to lose focus after that, fumbling on back-to-back possessions.
"That was pretty uncharacteristic of us to fumble that many times," Sims said. "I think the thing that impressed me most about our team is that we kept fighting back. We put the defense in bad positions, but they kept answering the bell."
The Yellow Jackets compensated for their sloppy ball security with big plays. They had six plays from scrimmage over 30 yards, plus a 29-yard game-sealing touchdown run by Sims with less than two minutes left and a 59-yard kickoff return by Lynn Griffin that led to Laskey's 7-yard touchdown run to make it 14-3 midway through the first quarter.
Godhigh's 65-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter was big, coming just four plays after Virginia had cut Georgia Tech's lead to 21-17 on Watford's 5-yard touchdown pass to Jennings.
Virginia rallied again, slicing the margin to 28-25 on Watford's 12-yard touchdown pass to Jennings and 2-point conversion pass to Khalek Shepherd with 3:23 left.
The Cavaliers still had two timeouts left and a chance if they could just stop the Yellow Jackets, and the crowd was in a frenzy after Georgia Tech's first play from its 25 went for no gain. But Vad Lee hit a wide-open Godhigh circling out of the backfield for a 38-yard gain and Sims scored three plays later.
Any remote chance Virginia had of coming from 10 down in the final two minutes was erased when Watford was intercepted by Brandon Watts.
Georgia Tech finished with 507 yards off offense as three backs rushed for over 100 — Laskey with 133, Godhigh with 111 and Sims with 107.
Virginia's Jennings had 13 catches for 119 yards and two touchdowns and Smith had 10 receptions for 151 yards.