Dec. 4, 2011
By Jon Cooper
– The college football landscape was a lot different in the 1970s than it is today.
The phrase “bowl eligible” had yet to enter the vernacular and six wins didn’t guarantee a team anything more than a winning season. There also were a lot fewer bowls in which to participate (11, as opposed to 35 today)
Back in 1970, conference ties wouldn’t have helped Georgia Tech, anyway, as the school played as an independent, having left the Southeastern Conference six years earlier.
But in 1970, Tech was a very good independent.
Led by sophomore quarterback Eddie McAshan and the running of Brent Cunningham and Bob Healy, and a defense featuring Consensus All-American Rock Perdoni that limited opponents to 296.4 yards of total offense and 14.2 points per game, the Yellow Jackets finished the regular season 8-3 and ranked No. 13 nationally.
Tech’s schedule was a tough one that season, including four top-25 teams. The Jackets opened the season by beating No. 17 South Carolina, 23-20, at Grant Field, sparking a 4-0 start. The streak ended with back-to-back road losses to No. 20 Tennessee then at No. 8 Auburn, led by Pat Sullivan, who would finish sixth in that season’s Heisman Trophy voting.
Following the loss at Auburn, the Jackets would lose only once more the rest of the way.
In their final game against a ranked opponent, on Nov. 14, the Jackets traveled to South Bend to face top-ranked Notre Dame and quarterback Joe Theismann. Tech lost the game, 10-7, but showed enough that pollsters moved No. 2 Texas ahead of the Fighting Irish. They would also hurt the Heisman hopes of Theismann — surname pronunciation change and all — and the ND QB would finish runner-up to Stanford’s Jim Plunkett.
The Jackets finished the season on a high, knocking off Georgia for the second straight season, 17-7 in Athens, and received a bid to play in El Paso.
Their opponent would be No. 19 Texas Tech. The third-place team in the Southwest Conference (behind Texas, and Arkansas), the Red Raiders would go to a bowl over Arkansas despite having a lower national ranking than the Razorbacks, one less win and two more losses, including a 24-10 loss to Arkansas in Lubbock.
The Georgia Tech-Texas Tech match-up would be the first in the game’s 36-year history to feature two ranked teams and would more than live up to the hype.
The Jackets drew first blood on the initial drive, taking a 7-0 lead as senior quarterback Jack Williams orchestrated a 62-yard, 11-play drive, capped off by Bob Healy’s two-yard plunge.
Then the defense, led by Perdoni, took over. The unit, which allowed 10 or fewer points over the final five regular season games (during which Tech went 4-1), dominated the vaunted Texas Tech running game, led by Doug McCutchen, who became the first 1,000-yard rusher in Texas Tech history in 1970, allowing them to cross midfield only once in the first 30 minutes.
A 21-yard Jack Moore field goal in the closing minute gave the Yellow Jackets a 10-0 lead heading into the locker room at intermission and completed what Carson called “the best first half we’ve played all year.”
Texas Tech got going in the second half and pulled to within a point on a McCutchen seven-yard touchdown run and a safety, as a Chip Pallman punt was blocked out of the end zone.
Early in the fourth the Red Raiders drove deep into Georgia Tech territory and threatened to take the lead. But the Jackets defense dug in and when Tech kicker Dickie Ingram misfired on a 26-yard field goal, the 10-9 lead was preserved.
Fittingly, the Yellow Jackets defense would set up the score that put the game away late in the fourth. Linebacker Bill Flowers recovered a fumble deep in Texas Tech territory and tailback Kevin McNamara scored six plays later on a two-yard run to with 1:44 to play to extend the lead to 17-9, which would be the final score.
Flowers, who made eight unassisted tackles in addition to the fumble recovery, was named the game’s MVP. Perdoni, who set a Sun Bowl record with four tackles for loss as part of his 13 on the day, was named Outstanding Lineman. His four TFLs are still fourth-most in Sun Bowl history even though the record fell in 1984, when Tennessee’s Reggie McKenzie made 4.5 TFLs.
Williams also set a record in the game, completing 78.6 percent of his passes (11-of-14). That record stood alone until Stanford’s Chad Hutchinson completed 22 of 28 passes in 1996.