Nesbitt ran for a tying touchdown late in the third quarter, then directed the drive that ended with Scott Blair's 46-yard field goal that put the Yellow Jackets ahead for good early in the fourth. Orwin Smith and Roddy Jones also scored touchdowns for Georgia Tech (2-1, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference), which overcame some second-half miscues after a mistake-free opening half to hang on for its 11th win in 13 meetings.
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Johnny White ran for a career-high 113 yards and a touchdown for the Tar Heels (0-2, 0-1), who were short-handed again due to an NCAA investigation into agent-related benefits and possible academic misconduct. Twelve players sat out, including NFL prospects Marvin Austin, Robert Quinn, Deunta Williams and Kendric Burney on defense.
Thirteen players missed the 30-24 loss to LSU on Labor Day weekend amid the probe. The school had hoped to find out the status of several players during the off week that followed, but only tailback Shaun Draughn was cleared from that group.
And yet, the Tar Heels found themselves in a familiar spot: trailing by the exact same score in the final minutes and with a chance to drive for the winning score.
T.J. Yates pushed the Tar Heels all the way to the LSU 6-yard line before missing on two throws into the end zone to end that game. This time, however, the Tar Heels' final drive stalled just across midfield when Brad Jefferson took down White well short of the marker on fourth down with 1:16 left.
The defending ACC champions lost at Kansas to fall out of the rankings last week, prompting coach Paul Johnson to say he wanted this players to "show me, don't tell me" that they had learned from their mistakes. This time, at least, they proved they could overcome them.
After Georgia Tech scored on all three first-half possessions, Nesbitt's bad option pitch led to the game's first turnover and set up White's 4-yard touchdown in the third quarter for a 24-17 lead. A few minutes later, the Tar Heels stopped the Yellow Jackets on a fourth-and-2 near midfield, which seemed to set them up to take control.
But Yates fumbled on a handoff attempt and Jefferson pounced on the loose ball. That set up another chance for Nesbitt, who scrambled to his left on a third-and-long and found Jones open on the left side for a short pass. Jones broke a tackle and sprinted 41 yards to the Tar Heels' 5, and Nesbitt scored on a keeper two plays later to tie it.
Then, after the Yellow Jackets defense forced a punt, Nesbitt directed a 44-yard drive that ended with Blair's 46-yard kick for the 27-24 lead. Blair added a 36-yard field goal with about 6 minutes left to increase the lead to six points.
Nesbitt ran for 104 yards, helping the Yellow Jackets finish with 372 yards on the ground and 448 overall.