Oct. 28, 2006
ATLANTA (AP) -Twenty-six seconds into the game, Reggie Ball was limping and Georgia Tech was already behind.
Not exactly the way the Yellow Jackets wanted to start coming off a dismal loss to Clemson.
But Ball rebounded with one clutch throw after another, Calvin Johnson got back in the offense and No. 21 Georgia Tech took a major step toward the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game, rallying Saturday for a 30-23 victory over Miami.
The Yellow Jackets scored 17 straight points in the fourth quarter, including Ball’s tiebreaking, 1-yard touchdown to pass to Johnson with 6:18 remaining. The defense then knocked the ball away from Hurricanes quarterback Kyle Wright – one of four Miami turnovers – and Tashard Choice ripped off a 24-yard TD run.
“We knew this was our moment,” said Johnson, who failed to catch a pass for the first time in a 31-7 loss to Clemson. “If we wanted to get to the ACC championship game, we had to win this game.”
Win, they did, taking command of the Coastal Division race. The Yellow Jackets (6-2, 4-1 ACC) merely need to win two of their last three conference games to secure a spot in the league’s Dec. 2 championship at Jacksonville, Fla.
After next week’s trip to North Carolina State, Georgia Tech faces the two worst teams in the conference: North Carolina and winless Duke.
The Hurricanes got off to the best possible start. On the first play from scrimmage, Ball was hit from behind by Calais Campbell while attempting to scramble, the ball popped loose at the 19 and Glen Cook returned it for a touchdown.
Just like that, Miami was up 7-0.
Ball got up limping, but was right back in on the next possession. He heard some boos from home crowd while completing just 3-of-16 passes in the first half, but everyone was cheering when he went 8-of-11 over the final two quarters.
“I was mad, hurt and frustrated,” Ball said. “But I’ve been down before. I had to keep everyone up, keep pushing.”
Choice rushed for 107 yards, becoming the first back all season to put up 100 yards on the Hurricanes. His touchdown – two plays after Adamm Oliver stripped the ball from Wright and KaMichael Hall fell on it for the Georgia Tech – made it 30-16 with 3 1/2 minutes left in a wild fourth quarter.
Miami needed just over a minute to finally score its first offensive touchdown. Wright hooked up with Greg Olsen on a 41-yard scoring pass that gave the Hurricanes a chance with 2:37 left.
But Coker elected to kick deep with only one timeout remaining, explaining afterward that he didn’t have much confidence in his team’s ability to pull off an onside kick.
Georgia Tech went three-and-out before Durant Brooks got off a booming punt, Rashaun Jones fumbled before he could even attempt a miracle return, and Chris Dunlap recovered for Georgia Tech with 19 seconds left to seal the crucial victory.
After kneeling down on the final play, the Yellow Jackets gathered in front of the student body at Bobby Dodd Stadium, raising their helmets in the air while the band boomed out “I’m a Rambling Wreck From Georgia Tech.”
“We’re in the driver’s seat,” Ball said.
Miami built a 10-0 lead on its first offensive possession, getting the first of three field goals by Jon Peattie. But the Yellow Jackets didn’t panic, tying the game at 13 by halftime and dominating the Hurricanes through most of the fourth quarter.
Wright threw for 246 yards and Javarris James rushed for 113 yards, but Miami couldn’t overcome three fumbles and an interception. The offense settled for field goals on all three of its drives that reached the Georgia Tech 20.
Johnson caught five passes for 68 yards. His first was a 43-yarder that led to Georgia Tech’s first score, a 39-yard field goal by Travis Bell.
James Johnson had Georgia Tech’s other touchdown on a 46-yard catch midway through the second period. He caught the ball in stride and managed to get one foot down in the back of the end zone before slamming into the padding in front of the stands.
Bell, who’s been mired in a slump most of the last two seasons, was given one more chance to turn things around. Coach Chan Gailey planned to make a change if his No. 1 kicker missed on his first field goal attempt, and he responded by going 3-of-3. Bell also connected from 38 yards, then made another from 39 early the fourth quarter to tie it at 16.
“It’s probably the best day I’ve ever had kicking,” Bell said. “Everything was right down the middle. And they weren’t chip shots, either.”