ATLANTA — Tennessee came back and defeated Georgia Tech in a double-overtime thriller Labor Day night in the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, 42-41.
The result seemed unlikely most of the night.
The offense under new starting quarterback Quinten Dormady showcased minimal production in the first half. Only three players caught passes: running back John Kelly, wide receiver Jauan Jennings and tight end Ethan Wolf.
The offense was not in sync, and the Vols faced a 14-7 halftime deficit with only 94 total yards on offense.
They needed a spark, especially with the announcement that Jennings would not return because of a wrist injury. (Tuesday, we learned Jennings dislocated his wrist and will miss up to 12 weeks.)
The deficit grew larger to 21-7 in the third quarter. Team 121 needed a playmaker to emerge.
Hello, Marquez Callaway.
The sophomore who caught just one pass in 2016 totaled four receptions for 115 yards and reached the end zone twice in a scintillating second-half performance.
His first touchdown catch closed the gap to 21-14, but Tech answered with a touchdown to push the margin back to 14 early the fourth quarter.
The deficit seemed insurmountable, given the Vols’ struggles to that point, but Callaway erased half of it in one blur.
He turned a short throw from Dormady into a 50-yard touchdown, and in the span of those 8 seconds, the Vols were back in it.
He added a 40-yard reception during the Vols’ 93-yard drive that forced overtime.
The on-field presence from Callaway might have come as a surprise, in a sense, after the 6-2, 199-pound receiver only appeared in six games last season and did not make a start; his only reception for 13 yards that came against FCS Tennessee Tech.
“Marquez Callaway, what can I say about that individual,” coach Butch Jones said after the game. “He sparked us and made some very, very key plays for us.
“He has always been one of those individuals that plays with great consistency. Always has energy. Always uplifting. So again, that doesn’t surprise me.”
When the Tennessee offense had to come up with plays and scores with the game on the line, Callaway came through.
Following the game, Callaway said that “the coaches really didn’t change anything on the game plan” but was told that the offensive players needed “to execute” the plays.
“So, that’s what we went out and did,” he said.
But the surprise should not come to many since Jones and the coaching staff have talked highly of him throughout the offseason.
He was a 4-star cornerback/athlete coming out of Warner Robins, Ga., and he showcased his skills in a homecoming stage on opening night.
Now, given the extent of Jennings’ injury, the Vols need him to keep making magic.