Tech’s Zenon coming through in clutch

Georgia Tech A-back Tony Zenon, shown here celebrating his six-yard touchdown run against Miami, also contributed two third-down conversion plays against the Hurricanes. (HYOSUB SHIN/AJC)

Georgia Tech A-back Tony Zenon, shown here celebrating his six-yard touchdown run against Miami, also contributed two third-down conversion plays against the Hurricanes. (HYOSUB SHIN/AJC)

 

Georgia Tech A-back Tony Zenon added to his cache of big plays this season Saturday.

The senior from Albany contributed to the Yellow Jackets’ win over Miami with a six-yard touchdown run that tied the score at 14 in the second quarter and another big play, a 30-yard catch to convert a third-and-16 on the first play of the fourth quarter. Tech went on to score on the drive to lift its lead to 28-17.

The pass play was designed to go to him on a wheel route. Zenon said he faked an out route and lifted up his arms to lure the defensive back into thinking he was running an out route. The back stopped to sit on the route and Zenon kept running.

“Justin (Thomas) did a great job of putting the ball in the right spot,” Zenon said. “All I had to do was catch it.”

Zenon said that, because the offense practices that play daily, he wasn’t nervous in the moment.

“It’s really just pitch and catch,” he said. “You just focus on the ball. Other than that, I don’t think of it as too much other than running the route and catching the ball, really.”

Despite how open Zenon was, and how far the ball had to travel, he said it wasn’t a moment where it seemed like the ball took forever to reach him.

“Actually, no. As soon as I turned up, Justin threw the ball,” Zenon said, adding that it was critical, as cornerback Ladarius Gunter came over and delivered a punishing hit on Zenon after making the catch. “That’s one thing Justin does. He has good timing on his ball. You don’t just wait. He puts it in there if it needs to be put in there. He puts some air under it if it needs it.”

Other plays of note from Zenon this season:

a 33-yard catch in the final minute of the first half against Wofford that led to the go-ahead score (on a similar, if not identical, play run against Miami);

a 22-yard catch on a fourth-and-5 of the opening drive of the second half, when Tech took a 17-9 lead;

touchdown runs of 19 and two yards against Tulane.

After struggling to get on the field in his first three seasons, Zenon is relishing starting and making regular contributions to a team that has exceeded expectations thus far. He is fifth on the team in all-purpose yards with 221, a per-game average of 44.2.

“It’s been a good season so far,” Zenon said. “I feel like the whole team has gelled. I feel like we’re getting better and better every game.”

Zenon was a freshman on the 2011 team that began the season 6-0 before finishing the regular season at 8-4. Zenon said the current team and the last Yellow Jackets team to start 5-0 are different in their trajectories.

“It’s two totally different teams,” Zenon said. “I feel like that team, they started off rolling from the beginning and just blowing people out. I feel like we started out slow. I’d rather start out slow and … keep improving instead of just blowing people out.”

Zenon’s memory doesn’t fail him. The 2011 Jackets were an explosive group at the start of the season. They scored on their first play from scrimmage in the first three games of the season, against Western Carolina, Middle Tennessee State and Kansas, the last a 95-yard run by A-back Orwin Smith. Zenon actually was responsible for the second, lining up at B-back and running a wheel route that went for a 73-yard touchdown reception from Tevin Washington.

The attention-getter was a 66-24 defeat of Kansas in which Tech set modern-era school records for rushing yards (604) and total offense (768) and an NCAA record for yards per carry (12.1).

Tech’s ranking reached as high as No. 12 in the country before getting upset at Virginia and then losing the next week at Miami before rebounding against Clemson in the biggest win of the season, a 31-17 decision. The team’s three highest-scoring games were in the first three games of the season (all non-conference) and the top four were in the first five games.

“You kind of get over your head a little bit,” Zenon said. “I kind of like the way we’re going, getting and better every week. I think we’re going to be where we want to be when the time comes.”


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