Jon Cooper | The Good Word
Seniors have one thought when they head into their final season, their final game, their final anything -- leave with no regrets.
Unfortunately for Georgia Tech football, that wasn't the case in 2017.
There was regret following the Yellow Jackets' season-ending 38-7 loss to No. 7 Georgia on Saturday afternoon at Bobby Dodd Stadium. The loss left the Jackets at 5-6 and on the outside of bowl consideration.
They needed one more win.
"One more" turned out to be a theme that filled the postgame session and fit for the entire season.
"Make one more play. One more play. That's it," said strong safety Corey Griffin, one of 20 Yellow Jackets celebrated on the field during Saturday's pregame Senior Day ceremony. "You look at it -- Tennessee, one point. Miami one point, Virginia, four points -- it all comes down to the small things. That's what I tell the guys leaving today -- you don't want to have this feeling ... I told those guys, `Work hard, starting tomorrow.' One more play, literally, is the difference."
The seniors weren't the only ones feeling they left something on the table.
"This season we had a chance," said head coach Paul Johnson. "Woulda, shoulda, coulda -- you can't play that game. [But] we had a chance for this to be a much better year than it turned out."
"I hate the way we went out," said junior quarterback TaQuon Marshall. "It sucks to send the seniors out on a game like this but I'm not going to lie to you and say I didn't enjoy the journey with them. It's been incredible."
The seniors, especially those on defense, certainly didn't want to go out the way they did against Georgia.
"Defensively we couldn't get a stop, offensively we couldn't get the ball going," said Griffin.
It seemingly happened to the Jackets all season long, especially over the final two games. The Jackets allowed scores on six of UGA's nine possessions, and, over the final two games, gave up 14 scores in 19 defensive series. Of those 14 scores, 10 were touchdowns.
Georgia scored five times in six possessions after the first quarter on Saturday with four drives resulting in touchdowns. But the one that didn't end up in the end zone proved equally costly. It was a field goal at the end of the first half that came in response to the Jackets' lone touchdown (a 10-yard connection from Marshall to senior wideout Ricky Jeune). The Bulldogs' field goal came despite the only having 42 seconds with which to work and not only extended their lead to 17-7 but took away any momentum that the Jackets gained with their touchdown less than a minute earlier.
The defense regrouped at the half and came out of the locker room fired up, recording its lone three-and-out on the opening possession of the second half, a spirited series that got the crowd back into the game. But the offense couldn't answer, also going three-and-out. Then the Bulldogs pulled away.
The loss, and more importantly, the realization that the team's season and his career were over, began to hit Griffin in the postgame press conference. He began to show that nightmarish feeling of regret and the search for soothing positives.
"It didn't really hit me until I got back to the locker room," he said, his voice beginning to quiver with emotion. "I know probably when I get back home and it all settles down, I'm probably going to break down. All good things come to an end. I just want to [think of] all the relationships I've built and thank all the coaches for giving me a chance."
Senior defensive end KeShun Freeman rode the same emotional see-saw and vocalized the same regret in regards to the `17 season.
"Some of the games we should have closed out early in the season really would have helped us out towards this part of the season," he said.
Like Griffin, Freeman also said he was grateful for the journey he'd been on. Most important to him was the impact he had on those around him.
"Although we lost today and our season wasn't what I wanted it to be, leaving this program, I feel like I've been able to impact a lot of people and touch a lot of people," he said. "None of the wins or anything would have meant anything if I wasn't able to reach out to children who can't play this sport, reach out to people with mental-health issues who can't play this sport. A big part of why I play is for those people, for those children.
"So many people have hit me up [to say], `I'm so glad you dedicated this game to me. I'm so glad that you fought for us,'" he added. "I feel like that's a big part of why I came here. I achieved that and I feel like I've grown as a man at this school. Once again, I thank our coaches for the opportunity, I thank our administrators and everyone at Georgia Tech for everything they helped me accomplish. Someone told me the best is yet to come. I'm ready for that best to come."