ATLANTA — Things have come full circle over the last year for T.K. Chimedza.
A year ago, Chimedza was a highly regarded freshman from IMG Academy who played only four games for the Yellow Jackets, just enough to get a little game experience but not enough to waste a season of eligibility. On Saturday afternoon, he was the guy who saved the day for Georgia Tech and provided the boost that made the difference.
It was Chimedza’s hero play at the goal line — one that will likely be highlighted on video boards and highlight reels for the rest of his days — that prevented South Florida from stealing a win at Bobby Dodd Stadium and allowed Georgia Tech to save a 14-10 win in the home debut for first-year coach Geoff Collins.
“It was one of those miracle plays,” said Chimedza, who played high school football at Dacula before finishing at IMG. “Great play.”
The situation was dire. South Florida had taken the ball to the Georgia Tech 1 on a 54-yard pass that safety Tarik Carpenter somehow managed to kill before receiver Mitch Wilcox could reach the end zone. That gave the Bulls four potential shots to take the lead.
After a five-yard penalty, South Florida had banged it back to the 1, had two more whacks at it and seemed certain to score. That’s when Chimedza became a super hero. South Florida tailback Jordan Conkrite decided it was a good idea to try to leap over the line and extend the ball toward the goal. Chimedza had other ideas. After Kaleb Oliver knocked the football loose, Chimedza recovered at the 3.
“Just wanted to bow up and keep them out of the end zone,” Chimedza said. “Our job is to lock them out. Dude tried to jump over, I saw the ball, saw the opportunity to punch it out and grab it.”
South Florida got the ball back one more time, but was forced to punt when the Bulls couldn’t convert a third-and-6. Oh, and Chimedza was in on that tackle, too.
“The defense never panicked,” Collins said. “Got a goal line stand to win the game.”
There was no question that the defense was improved, although South Florida quarterback Blake Barnett won’t be confused with Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence. Georgia Tech was able to get more pressure from its defensive front — particularly freshman Chico Bennett — and the secondary played at a high level, with Tre Swilling, Carpenter and Juanyeh Thomas all making big plays.
Georgia Tech limited South Florida to 96 yards in the first half and 262 for the game. It was the fewest points allowed by the Yellow Jackets since the 2018 season opening 41-0 win over Alcorn State.
“I’m proud of Coach (Andrew) Thacker and the defensive unit, how hard they played, holding a really good offense to 262 yards … nine tackles for loss, which helps that,” Collins said.
The offense was improved, too, and had to overcome the loss of two starting linemen — guard Mikey Minihan and center Kenny Cooper. Sophomore walk-on William Lay IIII took most of the snaps at center.
Georgia Tech used three quarterbacks again, rotating them in depending on the circumstances. Lucas Johnson got the start and completed 11 of 17 for 45 yards and one interception off a tipped ball and rushed for 36 yards. Tobias Oliver ran nine times for 48 yards and one touchdown and completed 2 of 3 passes for 11 yards. James Graham carried six times for 2 yards and completed his only pass for 20 yards.
Running back Jordan Mason rushed 20 times for a career-high 99 yards. He ran for 95 last season against South Florida. Mason also caught three passes.
“A character win,” Collins said. “A team that plays together and just battles all the way to the end. Doesn’t worry about the situation, just puts the ball down and plays together and plays at a high level.”