Tevin Washington’s Big Test
By BJ Bennett
Follow us at Twitter.com/SouthernPigskin. Become a fan at the SouthernPigskin.com Facebook Page
Those close to Georgia Tech's Tevin Washington believe he has the character needed to turn the page.
Tevin Washington's vindication, years in the making, appeared to have come in the most unlikely of settings.
Midway through the fourth quarter of his team's season opener, Georgia Tech's senior quarterback found himself on the road, at his own 28-yard line, down four points, facing a division rival and the lone program in the nation to have won ten games each of the last eight years. History suggests that a spot in the ACC Championship Game was on the line. Over 65,000 orange-clad fans were screaming at the top of their lungs at a venue former North Carolina quarterback T.J. Yates once said made him go "numb". The game was on the very field Washington took his first meaningful snaps on back in 2010, admirably filling in for injured Joshua Nesbitt before ultimately throwing an end zone interception on a pass intended for Tyler Melton with merely eight seconds to play. To the common observer, it was the worst possible circumstance for the option-based Yellow Jackets. Georgia Tech threw for the second-fewest yards in BCS conference football in 2011, completing just 49% of all passes thrown. The oft-criticized Washington was 72 yards away from redemption, without any receiver on the roster who had ever compiled a single collegiate catch.
Facing Bud Foster and Virginia Tech's vaunted defense, Washington went to work. He methodically led Georgia Tech into Hokie territory before being faced with a fourth-and-six at the Virginia Tech 37-yard line. There, Washington eluded pass rushers, extended the play and threw perhaps the best pass of his career to a streaking B.J. Bostic on the sidelines for a 19-yard first down. Four plays later, Washington would find Deon Hill on a crossing route for a 10-yard touchdown strike. Following the conversion, Georgia Tech took a staggering 17-14 lead over the homestanding Hokies with 44 seconds left to play.
"He made some great plays on the last drive in regulation," GT head coach Paul Johnson acknowledged of his senior quarterback.
It was the type of drive, environment considered, on which legacies are built. Washington was 5-of-6 throwing the football, rushed for 31 yards, converted a key third down and a critical fourth down. Backed deep in adversity's corner, Georgia Tech's signal caller took his team right at, and right through, the awaiting challenge. The end result was a late lead over the ACC Coastal Division favorites and a likely road upset of a nationally-ranked rival.
"He played really well, especially towards the end of the fourth quarter, engineering that drive, bringing them back, taking the lead in the game," explained former Georgia Tech A-back Roddy Jones, the program's all-time leader in career starts.
Another chapter would be added to Washington's storybook ending, as, with less than a minute to play, Virginia Tech would dart right back into Georgia Tech territory. On fourth-and-four, Logan Thomas found Corey Fuller on a 23-yard slant pattern. Hokie kicker Cody Journall, who missed a prior attempt, would prove true on a 41-yard game-tying attempt just seconds later. Overtime was then the order of the evening, a remarkable momentum-swing and an ultimately-devastating change of fortune for the visitors.
On third down of the first drive of extra play, Washington tossed a desperation heave while trying to prevent a sack near the sidelines. It was the type of throw that immediately appeared doomed. Falling to the field, Washington's pass was more like a blind bouquet toss. Even as the camera angle panned, you could sense the senior reaching back for possession as time stood still. It was a proverbial hanging slider left out over the plate, the one blemish on an otherwise sterling sheet.
"I think his biggest mistake was thinking that he had to throw it out of bounds more than anything. Even if he gets sacked right there, it's like a 37-yard field goal, which is very makeable. He said he was trying to throw it away and you can't fault him for that because as a quarterback you are taught that if you can ever avoid a sack to avoid it," Jones continued. "It was just unfortunate that he couldn't quite get enough on it to get it out of bounds."
The interception by Kyle Fuller, brother of receiver Corey from earlier fourth down fame, was turned into another Journall field goal and a pivotal win over Virginia Tech's most highly-touted divisional foe. In a game where he completed 10-of-15 passes and orchestrated one of the more improbable late drives in program history, Washington's lone mistake proved to be one that handed the Hokies the victory.
Ideally, a lead with under 45 seconds to play would hold; the Yellow Jackets had Thomas and company in a fourth-and-four with 13 seconds remaining. Defensive blunders will now go largely overlooked. Washington's interception, not his gutsy fourth quarter drive, will be this game's last memory. Talented reserves Synjyn Days and Vad Lee are waiting in line. So are road games with defending league champion Clemson, rising North Carolina and archrival Georgia. Those close to Washington believe he has the character needed to turn the page.
"Tevin has grown to be a very emotionally-stable, very positive leader. I think he will be the one to really instigate the team moving forward," Jones stated. "He's been through a lot in his career over the course of his four years. Even back to him coming in, being buried on the depth chart behind Nesbitt and Jaybo and maybe even some other people. Tevin has taken some lumps as a starter, with people wanting to replace him and things like that. He has done a great job of overcoming it every time. I think Tevin will have a great season. I think the team showed a lot of promise and will still have a very good year."
Two years ago, a young Washington experienced a baptism-by-fire when Nesbitt's injury forced him into action. The 2010 VT game included, Georgia Tech lost four of their last five as Washington held on for the ride. Now, the respected leader of Johnson's football team, Washington has the experience needed to get the Yellow Jackets headed in the right direction. A match with FCS opponent Presbyterian is on the schedule for Saturday, though the schedule then peaks. Virginia, Miami and Dabo Swinney's Tigers make up three of Tech's next four. Focus will be paramount as a full season's worth of games remain. As Washington and the Jackets look to rebound, they'll have to do with their eyes fixed forward.
"Tevin is a resilient, hard-working young man. I have no doubt that he will bounce back from last night. He performed great the entire night and had one glaring error that tainted his performance," stated Melton, who Washington nearly connected with at the end of this very game two years ago. "But I believe he's more than capable of doing an excellent job this season and I expect him to have a great game this coming weekend."
A short week presents challenges, but it also forces Georgia Tech to keep moving.
"The fact that they play this Saturday, five days after Virginia Tech, is probably a good thing because they will be able to get that taste of our their mouths and get back on a winning track because they have two more Coastal Division games in September," Jones concluded. "It's only Labor Day, they have a lot of football ahead of them. Eleven games, so anything can happen. You have to get over it, you have to move past it. I think that Tevin, and all of the seniors really, will do a great job of helping him forget it."
Near the end of Monday night's game, Georgia Tech's much-maligned quarterback had to think his efforts, facing Virginia Tech in Lane Stadium, would be talked about for years to come. After a sudden twist of fate, Washington will now have to make sure that he is done remembering instead.