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Friday, September 22, 2006

Georgia Tech Rolls Over Virginia

ATLANTA (AP) -- Calvin Johnson's left leg was hurting. He wasn't sure if he'd be able to play until he went out for warmups.

Then he went out and had the best game of his Georgia Tech career.

Shaking off a sore quadriceps, Johnson caught touchdown passes of 66 and 58 yards on the way to piling up 165 yards receiving, leading the Yellow Jackets past feeble Virginia 24-7 on Thursday night.

"It was real sore and tight," said Johnson, who had the two longest touchdowns of his career and set a personal best for yards in a game. "But once the adrenaline got started, I didn't worry about it. I was feeling no pain."

Johnson barely practiced during the short week after injuring his leg in Saturday's victory over Troy. His status was listed as a game-time decision, the coaches wanting to know how he felt while warming up.

Johnson did some light running, got a last-minute massage from the trainers and proclaimed himself ready to play.

"I think he was less than 100 percent," coach Chan Gailey said, "but obviously he had a great night."

Burning the Cavaliers twice when they attempted single-coverage on the star receiver, Reggie Ball hooked up with Johnson on touchdown passes of 58 and 66 yards to give the Yellow Jackets (3-1, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) a commanding lead by early in the second half.

"When I see one guy in front of me, I'm like, 'Shoot, I love it," Johnson said with a smile.

Of course, any lead looked safe against Virginia (1-3, 0-1), which had three straight wins in the series but managed just 166 yards and nine first downs with redshirt freshman Jameel Sewell becoming the Cavaliers' third starting quarterback of the season.

Sewell's inexperience definitely showed in his first career start. He looked jittery in the pocket in the first half, bouncing numerous passes at the feet of his receivers. Late in the game, he threw two interceptions in a desperate attempt to rally the Cavaliers.

"I was not nervous," Sewell insisted. "I had no fear. My teammates had faith in me."

Ball, who set a school record for quarterbacks with 130 yards rushing against Troy, did a little bit of everything. On the Yellow Jackets' second possession, the senior handed off to fullback Mike Cox, then drifted out of the backfield to haul in a 17-yard pass.

Ball might have scored, but he slipped at the 5 trying to make a cut. Not to worry. After a penalty backed up Georgia Tech, the quarterback picked up 4 yards on the option, then scored with a 6-yard run around left end. Johnson made a key block in the end zone on linebacker Jon Cooper.

Travis Bell kicked a 47-yard field goal for a 10-0 lead and the Yellow Jackets used up their timeouts late in the first half to get the ball back.

Ball wasted no time looking for his big receiver. Inexplicably, the Cavaliers put one man on the 6-foot-5 Johnson, who blew by Jamaal Jackson after a quick feint to the outside and hauled in the 58-yard score down the middle of the field before safety Byron Glaspy could get over to help.

Johnson easily pulled away from the defenders, sticking out the ball with his right hand as he glided into the end zone with 1:08 left in the half.

Ball and Johnson pulled off an even bigger play the next time they got their hands on the ball. On Georgia Tech's first possession of the second half, Johnson froze Marcus Hamilton with a quick stutter-step along the sideline, then got safety Tony Franklin all twisted up by cutting to the inside for the 66-yard TD -- the longest reception of Johnson's career.

The junior eclipsed his previous career high for receiving yards, a 131-yard effort against Connecticut in 2004. Until Thursday, Johnson's longest touchdown catch was a 42-yarder last season, also against UConn.

Ball finished 10-of-19 for 205 yards, giving the Yellow Jackets plenty of confidence heading into their next game, an ACC showdown against No. 11 Virginia Tech. Last season, the Hokies routed Georgia Tech 51-7.

"You don't get over it, especially a loss like that," Ball said. "We've got to practice that much harder next week because we know what we're facing."

Virginia, coming off a home loss to Western Michigan, avoided a shutout when Sewell tossed a 16-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Ogletree on fourth down with 12½ minutes remaining. The Cavaliers needed help from Georgia Tech's Tashard Choice, who fumbled the ball away at his own 29.

"A touchdown will give you confidence, no matter what," Sewell said. "It lets you know you can do it again."

Even so, Virginia has managed just 43 points this season -- an average of less than 11 per game. Coach Al Groh said he's committed to helping Sewell develop as the No. 1 quarterback.

"He's got some elusiveness in the pocket, which a quarterback on this team right now needs to have," Groh said. "We knew well back in time that this was what it was going to come to, and we're going to follow through."


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