Dec. 2, 2014
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
Jinxes are only true if you believe in them.
Stepping on a sidewalk crack doesn’t really break your mama’s back.
Walking under a ladder, while not necessarily smart, isn’t bad luck.
Georgia Tech sophomore kicker Harrison Butker probably was wondering how much truth there was in the sophomore jinx, especially after having a 37-yard field goal blocked earlier in the game — it was his fifth miss on kicks between 30 and 39 yards, the only distance where he’s had more than one miss — but now stood as a potential margin of defeat.
With four seconds left, Tech trailed by a field goal. Johnson put the sophomore jinx aside and called on Butker to attempt a 53-yard, game-tying field goal. The kick would be four yards longer than his career-best and seven yards longer than any kick he’d made in 2014.
There wasn’t any time to think about the past or even superstitions, even though Georgia Coach Mark Richt gave him an extra 30 to try. But mentally, Butker was ready.
“As soon as they scored the touchdown and we were down by three I knew it was going to come down to a field goal so I was warming up in the net,” he said. “I went out there to kick and then they called a timeout. I think that actually helped me. I got to take a deep breath and do a practice run.
“I trust my snapper, Trevor Stroebel, and my holder, Ryan Rodwell,” he continued. “There was a little breeze behind me, not much, but I just said, ‘Kick it straight so it goes down the middle.’ Luckily it went through. Not by much but it counted.”
The Jackets had forced the third tie of the game and it would lead to the third lead change over the game’s final 4:22 and overtime and, most important, the final lead change of the game.
“As soon as I kicked it I knew I didn’t hit it as well as I could have but as soon as it came off my foot I saw it was going straight and it wasn’t curving at all so I thought it would go through,” he said. “I could have hit it better but it went through.”
Ironically, a kick Butker couldn’t have hit better gave Tech the opportunity to possibly ice the game in regulation. It came on the kickoff following Zach Laskey’s eight-yard touchdown run that gave the Jackets a 21-17 lead with 4:22 to play.
Kicking into a slight wind and nursing a four-point lead, Tech head coach Paul Johnson knew that he didn’t want Butker to kick the ball deep and risk a big return by sensational freshman Isaiah McKenzie, who would not return any of Tech’s four kickoffs all day. So he called for the onside kick.
Butker approached the ball, and hit a chip shot that two Bulldogs allowed to bounce. Tech freshman DB Lawrence Austin caught the ball in stride. He wasn’t allowed to advance the kick but his recovery gave Tech the ball at the Georgia 27.
“We actually had that exact same play happen in practice, where the guys didn’t know who was going to catch the ball and it dropped and it acts like an onside kick,” Butker said. “It happened in practice so we knew it might happen in a game. We just didn’t want their main returner to get the ball. Our special teams coach, Coach Ray [Rychleski] always says ‘Kick it shorter than longer.’ So when you do that it kind of puts the receiver in a difficult position.”
But in the nature of this wild game, it would be Tech that wound up in the difficult position. Two plays later, quarterback Justin Thomas fumbled on a rollout. Georgia recovered and drove for the go-ahead score, that left Tech with 18 seconds on the clock.
It was enough time to give Butker a chance to redeem himself and get Thomas off the hook.
“It was really important,” he said. “My season hasn’t been that great. I’ve missed some kicks and I felt pretty bad about that. I’m just glad I could have a kick to help the team and show them I can help the team. I’m just trying to do my best for the team. The whole team scores. Justin, I’m glad we got that win for him because he’s such a great QB.
“I was really happy for the seniors,” he added. “I just wanted to get that win. I know that wasn’t a winning kick but I felt like we were going to win if I made that kick. So I was really pumped up. It totally got us the momentum.”
The win, which gave Tech its second five-game winning streak of the season and gives the Yellow Jackets momentum heading into Saturday’s Dr Pepper ACC Championship Game, their second appearance in three years, again against Florida State.
Butker is going in a confident part of a confident and very resilient team.
“My heart sure did go through some ups and downs. It was a pretty crazy day,” he said. “[The team’s resilience] is a credit to Coach Johnson. That’s just the type of person he is. He’s never going to quit and I think that’s shook off on all of us. We have a great team. We rely on each other. We’re positive and working together. We’re in a great spot right now.”
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