ATLANTA — Georgia Tech was struggling to put Mercer away.
Coach Paul Johnson wanted to keep his offense on the field.
So he called a fake punt that worked to perfection.
Chase Alford rumbled 21 yards after taking a direct snap, leading to a touchdown that clinched the Yellow Jackets’ 35-10 victory over Mercer on Saturday.
Quarterback Justin Thomas ran for a touchdown before sitting out the second half with what was described as a minor injury.
Backup Matthew Jordan had a couple of 1-yard TD runs, the second one coming after the fake to finally finish off the scrappy Bears , a 4-year-old Southern Conference program playing its first game against a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent.
“I was like, ‘Let’s go. We’ve got another shot,'” Jordan said.
The Yellow Jackets (2-0) overcame an early 7-0 deficit. Thomas tied the game on a 13-yard scoring run late in the first quarter, and short-yardage specialist Jordan put the Yellow Jackets ahead to stay with his first TD.
Mercer (0-2) started the second half with a 17-play, 61-yard drive that consumed nearly 8 ½ minutes, leading to a field goal that cut the deficit to 21-10. On Georgia Tech’s next possession, the Bears appeared to force a three-and-out.
With the temperature climbing into the 90s on a sunny, sweltering day, Johnson didn’t want his defense to go back on the field so quickly.
So he turned to Alford to pull off the fake.
“We needed to get another possession,” the linebacker said. “Coach said to run it. I was able to get some good blocking and get the first down.”
Thomas ran seven times for 69 yards and completed 5-of-10 passes for 80 yards before calling it a day. He could’ve gone back in if needed, according to Johnson.
No need. Jordan did just fine, rushing 12 times for 44 yards.
Mercer stunned the home crowd by jumping ahead on John Russ’ 32-yard TD pass to Avery Ward, after Georgia Tech fumbled the ball away on the opening possession of the game.
“I’m awfully proud of the effort and grit they showed out there,” Bears coach Bobby Lamb said.
The Yellow Jackets turned to their running game to wear down Mercer, finishing with 364 yards on the ground. Qua Searcy led the way with 91 yards and six other players were in double figures rushing.
“I was hoping we would play better,” Johnson said. “There’s a lot of things we can improve on, a lot of things we can get better at. It’s a process.”
Russ was 24 of 38 for 225 yards. The Bears were limited to 85 yards rushing.
SHAKING THINGS UP
Johnson followed through on his threat to make lineup changes after a lackluster win over Boston College in the season opener.
Searcy got the nod at A-back, Andrew Marshall started at left tackle and Grant Aasen took over the punting duties (though only for one ugly kick). Also, Marcus Marshall started at B-back after freshman Dedrick Mills was suspended for violating team rules.
Andrew Marshall wound up playing extensively at right tackle when Trey Klock went out in the first half with what appeared to be an injured right leg.
Mercer: The Bears picked up a $300,000 payday for making an 87-mile trip to Atlanta, which didn’t even require a hotel stay. “We take a lot of money home,” Lamb quipped.
Georgia Tech: It’s hard to read much into a victory over an outclassed opponent, though the Yellow Jackets at least got a chance to send out some little-used players. Third-string quarterback TaQuon Marshall scored his first college touchdown on a late 11-yard run.
Mercer: The Bears return home to meet Tennessee Tech, still looking for their first win of the season.
Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets will take a step up in competition when they host Vanderbilt from the Southeastern Conference next Saturday. This will be the first meeting between the schools since 2009. Georgia Tech has not lost to the Commodores since 1941, going 11-0-1 since then.
AP College Football site: www.collegefootball.ap.org