Oct. 25, 2015
By Jon Cooper | The Good Word
It might be argued that the “Football Gods” finally decided to cut Georgia Tech a break on Saturday night, when they turned a potential game-winning, 56-yard field goal for No. 9 Florida State into an improbable 78-yard blocked kick return for a touchdown and a 22-16 win for the Yellow Jackets, ending their five-game losing streak.
Lance Austin believes there was spiritual involvement but his is a lot more personal. He credits the inspiration given him by his grandmother, Louise Austin, who passed away last December.
“Last year she passed away while we were in Miami for the Orange Bowl,” recalled the sophomore corner, whose twin brother, Lawrence, starts on the corner and also dedicates his play to Louise. “Every game Lawrence and I try to write her name somewhere. I had it on my sleeve, ‘R.I.P. Louise.’ I know she was looking down on me tonight.”
Lance said Lawrence felt the same way and told him so as they met in the end zone following the career-long return of FSU kicker Roberto Aguayo’s blocked attempt, only his third miss of the season.
“When [Lawrence] got to me, I think he might have been the first one to get to me when I passed the goal line. He said, ‘Grandma was looking down on us and you did it for her,’” he said. “And I did.”
Austin’s 78-yard run, basically a sweep from the Florida State, around the corner and past his own bench, was the answer to a prayer of many of the white-clad fans at sold-out Bobby Dodd, celebrating homecoming and donning white for the White-Out.
But to head coach Paul Johnson, it was a reward for tremendous effort and heart by a team that overcame a 10-point second-quarter deficit yet more injuries and, on this night, would not rest until it found a way to break their five-game losing streak.
“We were due,” said Johnson. “It was our turn. We’ve seen so many of these close ones like this go the other way. It’s good to finally be on the right end of one for a change.”
The Jackets, who came in knowing they would be without B-Back Patrick Skov and corner D.J. White, then saw injuries to P.J. Davis and A.J. Grey on back-to-back plays (Davis would return). They seemed destined for another heartbreaker, on Homecoming Weekend, no less. These were the Seminoles, undefeated in 2015 and in their last 28 ACC games. Plus Aguayo, a redshirt junior entered the game having made 97.5 percent of his kicks, including 57-of-63 on field goals and had never missed on 20 fourth-quarter field goal attempts.
Somebody in white needed to make a play because they certainly weren’t going to get any help from the FSU Preseason All-American and Lou Groza Award candidate.
“I knew we had to block it. e don’t block it that kicker’s pretty much money from anywhere,” said quarterback Justin Thomas. “Lance made a heads-up play to pick the ball up. He made a great effort. It was just a great way to end the game.”
Defensive End KeShun Freeman also was optimistic.
“Before it happened I was kind of thinking ‘We can block this,’” said Freeman. “Coming off the ball I went up and I saw somebody’s hand, I didn’t know whose at the time.”
That mysterious hand belonged to redshirt senior Patrick Gamble.
Gamble, who was lined up next to Adam Gotsis last week, when a kick from the same distance and toward the same uprights — Pittsburgh’s Chris Blewitt kicked from the right hash, however — just eluded the Jackets’ rush and snuck over the crossbar for the winning points, had a premonition that the result would be different this time and that he would make sure of that.
“The only thing that was going through my mind was ‘Block the kick,’” he said. “Actually, when I got down in my stance, this was a crazy thing, I envisioned myself blocking that kick. Me and Adam looked at each other and said, ‘Let’s get some push on these guys’ and we just got our hands up. Luckily it hit my hand and Lance returned it for a touchdown.
“I was actually celebrating,” he added, with a laugh. “I didn’t even know what was going on.”
Freeman, a yard away from Austin, did.
“‘The ball started rolling and I saw Lance pick it up and run,” said Freeman. “I was like, ‘Just go! Just go! Just go!’ I was screaming. I was trying to block whoever.
“I was behind the ball so I wasn’t going to try to block and get a penalty or anything,” he added. “When I saw him making it into the end zone and there wasn’t any yellow anywhere, I went up and hugged him. It was a surreal feeling. It was great.”
On the Tech sideline, Johnson, who admittedly was focusing on overtime strategy once the kick was blocked, had his own ideas about what Austin should do. But Austin’s head of steam turning the corner, who was in pursuit for FSU (O-Linemen, a kicker and holder, punter Carson Beatty) and who those in pursuit would have to beat — an escort including Jamal Golden, with support from Davis, Gamble, and Chris Milton, led to a change of heart.
“It was crazy because we blocked it and I see it run across the line. I go from yelling, ‘Get away from it!’ to ‘Run! Run! Run!’” said Johnson, who is now 6-3 against top-25 teams at Bobby Dodd Stadium and 3-1 vs. the top 10. “When [the Seminoles] didn’t cover and he picked it up, as he came by me on the sideline I’m thinking, ‘He has a chance to go with this thing’ because he had blockers in front. He made the kicker miss, he cut back on either the kicker or the holder and once he did that it was kind of throw your headset and go bat crazy. It was just a crazy way to end the game.”
Austin said he knew what to do, simply perform a drill the Jackets do in practice.
“I didn’t hear anybody,” he said. “But we go over that scenario all the time in practice. So it clicked in my head that time had expired so I just picked it up and went to the field.
“When I picked it up and started running to the field I saw a lot of green so I was like, ‘Okay. Maybe I CAN return it,’” he continued. “Then I saw Aguayo and he’s a pretty good tackler. So once I made him miss, also Jamal [Golden] and Chris [Milton], when I came around there was a WALL. So my teammates did a great job of blocking. I kind of got by Aguayo and got in the end zone and it was kind of surreal.”
About as surreal as Aguayo’s first ever fourth-quarter miss would come via Gamble’s first-ever blocked kick (practice not included), and lead to Austin’s first career touchdown. It came in a game where the Jackets forced the Seminole offense’s first turnover — an end zone interception of FSU’s Everett Golson by Golden in the fourth quarter with the score tied at 13. But the most important first was the Jackets’ first ACC ‘W.’
“We feel good. I don’t think I’ve ever felt that much energy in our locker room after a win,” said Gamble. “This win really gives us a lot of confidence that we can play with anybody. We can go out there and be on the field with the greatest and come out with a ‘W’. I just really think it gave us a whole bunch of confidence going forward and try to win the next game.
“It feels great to be part of a play like that, a GAME like that that’s going to go down in history,” Gamble added with a laugh, “I’m going to be old and grey one day and I’ll be able to tell my child about this. It’s a blessing.”
Austin was pleased he could put on a show for the Homecoming crowd and that special fan watching from above.
“She used to come to all my games,” Lance recalled. “Since I was a kid, basketball games, track meets, everything. Even when she was sick in the hospital she used to watch us. So I know she was looking down on us today.
“I always see stuff on TV, people dogpiling on top of the players. Fortunately I was that guy today,” he added. “It was a pretty great feeling. I got down on my knee and kind of looked up to the sky and said, ‘That’s for my grandmother, Louise.’”