Dec. 24, 2010
By Jon Cooper
It had been 35 years since Georgia Tech had last won back-to-back bowl games. But that was the opportunity presented the Yellow Jackets as their offense lined up for a two-point conversion in the closing seconds of the 1991 Aloha Bowl against Stanford, trailing 17-16.
It was a chance to make history for the Jackets, who hadn’t had reason to celebrate the aftermath of consecutive bowl appearances since the end of the 1955 season, when Tech shut out Pittsburgh, 7-0, in the Sugar Bowl and the end of ’56 at the Gator Bowl, again beating Pittsburgh, 21-14. Those wins marked the end of a run of six straight bowl victories.
They would have a similar chance to bookend 1991. The year kicked off with an emphatic National Championship-clinching 45-21 victory over Nebraska at the Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando.
Heading into the game, it appeared that Denny Green’s Cardinal had all the momentum, having run roughshod over the Pac-10, winning seven straight games by an average of 24.6 points, to turn a 1-3 start into a No. 17 national rating.
There was no ranking for the 7-5 Jackets, who had their four-game winning streak snapped against Georgia, an 18-15 loss at Bobby Dodd. It was the team’s second loss by three or fewer points. Quarterback Shawn Jones, who orchestrated ’90s share of the title, would not let this game be number three.
Tech spotted Stanford a 7-0 lead before Jones’ TD pass to Mike Smith and a 24-yard Scott Sisson field goal regained the lead after one quarter. Back came the Cardinal, who took a 17-10 lead into the half and held it as the clock ticked down within two minutes in the fourth.
The defense, which was led by Ken Swilling, aka “Captain America,” who had 10 tackles (nine solo), Jerrelle Williams, who added 10 tackles (eight solo), and future Marco Coleman (nine, tackles, eight solos), made a final stand. With 1:41 left they forced a Stanford punt from the Tech 45.
Special teams also would chip in. Earlier in the game, punter Jason Bender boomed a school-Bowl-record 67-yard punt, Jason Bender. This time it would be the punt return unit that would come up big. It would use a play they’d used in the first game of the season, then re-inserted just for the bowl game. The play from their past would impact the present and change the future.
The play was their strategy on the return. Instead of using the middle of the field as they had most of the season, they chose to go left. The result was Willie Clay grabbing the ball at his six yard line, foregoing the fair catch, going left and taking off 63-yards.
“Fair catch my last punt return at Georgia Tech? No way,” said the senior afterward. “I was catching that ball. I didn’t even know where I was on the field. I just caught the ball and ran straight up the sideline.” The return, still the longest in school Bowl history put the ball at Stanford’s 31 and in the capable hands of Jones, who took it the final yard on a quarterback draw on the seventh play of the drive.
There were 14 seconds left in the game when Jones’ 18th touchdown of the season and seventh on the ground, drew Tech to within 17-16.
Ross, who would leave Tech after the season for the NFL’s San Diego Chargers, and Offensive Coordinator Ralph Friedgen then chose to go for the two-point conversion and the win.
They put it on the legs and keen decision-making of Jones. The junior QB rolled left on the option. When the Cardinal defense reacted to him, he pitched to Jimy Lincoln, Tech’s leading rusher during the season (913 yards), who caught the pitch and navigated his way into the end zone.
“[The two-point conversion play] was an option and the defender could either take the quarterback or the pitch. He took the quarterback and Shawn pitched the ball out,” Lincoln said afterward. “There were two guys outside, and one was supposed to be picked up by the wide receiver. But somehow he didn’t, so I had to cut back real quick.” The win completed a 19-5-1 stretch, which at the time the third-most wins in two-year stretch in school history (it’s currently fourth).
Ross (2007), Jones (2003), Coleman (2002), Sisson (2003), and Swilling (2001, a decade after older brother, Pat) would all be inducted into the Georgia Tech Athletics Hall of Fame.