ATLANTA, Ga. – Junior running back John Kelly dashed for four touchdowns and racked up 128 rushing yards to help lead No. 25/24 Tennessee football to a double-overtime victory against Georgia Tech in the Vols’ season-opening Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game on Monday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“That was a very good college football game,” Tennessee head coach Butch Jones said. “I have a lot of respect for Georgia Tech. I am really proud of our players. We spoke all week long about a will to win, and that was the kind of game to find out our will to win. We knew that this was going to be a game that you had to show some resolve and some grit, and you had to play complementary football.
“The resolve and resiliency of our defense, even though we gave up  yards rushing, we still managed to force two takeaways, and offensively, we didn’t turn the football over, which was paramount to winning the football game.”
Tennessee went into overtime for the second-consecutive season opener. Kelly punched in a touchdown from one yard out in the first overtime to match a one-yard touchdown run by Georgia Tech quarterback TaQuon Marshall and keep the game timed at 35-35.
In the second overtime, junior quarterback Quinten Dormady connected on a 15-yard pass to sophomore receiver Marquez Callaway. Two plays later, Kelly took the handoff up the middle for a two-yard touchdown to put UT up, 42-35, marking the Vols’ first lead of the game.
“John Kelly sparked us, and he played with passion and energy,” said Jones. “He played with a toughness, and he played with a great will to win.”
On the ensuing possession, Georgia Tech found the endzone on a 13-yard rush by Marshall to pull within one of the Vols. After the Yellow Jackets elected to go for the win with a two-point attempt, the Tennessee defense came up with a huge stop to seal the 42-41 victory. UT redshirt sophomore defensive end Darrell Taylor forced an incomplete pass by Marshall on the conversion attempt.
Dormady, who was making his first start as a Vol, went 20-for-37 for 221 passing yards a pair of touchdowns. He was outstanding in the second half and overtime, going 12-for-17 169 yards and two touchdowns. Callaway had a big game on the outside, hauling in four passes for 115 and two touchdowns to help spark UT’s offense.
After trading drives to to start the first quarter, Georgia Tech capitalized on a 12-play, 86-yard drive to pull ahead, 7-0.
In the second quarter, sophomore Daniel Bituli, who finished with a career-high 23 tackles, forced the first fumble of his career to jumpstart an Orange and White scoring drive. Tennessee advanced down the field 45 yards before Kelly punched it in for one yard to tie the game at 7-7.
Georgia Tech ran 7:06 off the clock on the ensuing drive, ending on a one-yard rush and good PAT to pull ahead, 14-7.
The Yellow Jackets went on to score their third rushing touchdown of the game in the second half after an 80-yard drive, pushing their advantage to 21-7.
A fourth-down stop by Tennessee’s defense with 3:14 left in the third started the Vol’s 70-yard scoring series. Dormady completed five of six passes in the quarter for 41 yards and connected with Callaway, cutting GT’s lead, 21-14.
To start the fourth quarter, Georgia Tech used seven plays, including a 42-yard pass, to make it a 14-point game.
Tennessee’s offense answered, putting together a 61-yard drive in just over a minute. Dormady capped the possession with a 50-yard pass to Callaway, trimming the Yellow Jackets’ lead, 28-21.
With 4:50 left in the game, senior Rashaan Gaulden forced a fumble that was recovered by Micah Abernathy at Tennessee’s seven-yard line. The Vols then marched 93 yards down the field using a 40-yard catch by Callaway and two runs by Kelly for 27 yards and a touchdown to tie the game, 28-28.
The Vols’ carried the momentum to the defensive side of the ball as redshirt junior walk-on Paul Bain blocked Georgia Tech’s three-point attempt to send the game to overtime.
“I think this football team showed our grit, but we’re continuing to evolve,” Jones said. “We talked about three games in 13 days. We have to turn around now with a short work week and get into Neyland Saturday afternoon. We have to get a lot better and make tremendous progress.”
Tennessee’s home opener is slated for Sept. 9 against Indiana State with kickoff set for 4 p.m. ET.