Sept. 29, 2001
By PAUL NEWBERRY
AP Sports Writer
ATLANTA – Woody Dantzler has already pulled off two mind-boggling plays. The winning score must have looked easy.
The Clemson quarterback capped a brilliant game by running 11 yards for a touchdown in overtime, giving the Tigers a 47-44 upset of No. 9 Georgia Tech on Saturday.
“I feel so good right now I can’t even describe it,” said Dantzler, who fumbled on Clemson’s first possession but was flawless the rest of the way.
It was a fitting end to a thriller that featured seven lead changes after halftime.
After all, Dantzler scrambled 38 yards for a touchdown on the final play of the first half. Then, he pulled his team from the brink of defeat with a 63-yard scoring pass to J.J. McKelvey late in regulation.
Dantzler completed 18-of-32 passes for 254 yards and two touchdowns. He also led Clemson in rushing with 164 yards on 25 carries – meaning the quarterback had a hand in 418 of his team’s 502 yards.
“It’s good to have a quarterback who can do that,” said Travis Zachery, who scored three TDs for the Tigers.
The ball went over to Dantzler, who burned the Yellow Jackets one final time. Facing third-and-6 from the 11, he took one step back, spotted an opening up the middle and went all the way to the end zone without being touched to give the Tigers (3-1, 1-1) a crucial victory on the heels of a last-second loss to Virginia a week earlier.
“I got a great block” from Zachery, Dantzler said. “It was a simple draw. You have to follow your boy.”
Georgia Tech coach George O’Leary called a timeout to consider going for the first down after Burns was stopped in overtime.
“If it had been less than a yard, we probably would have gone for it because I didn’t feel comfortable stopping them,” O’Leary said. “But I didn’t want to give them a chance to win it just by kicking a field goal.”
Amazingly, it was the sixth year in a row the Georgia Tech-Clemson matchup has been decided by three points. This time, the Tigers snapped a four-game losing streak in the series.
Georgia Tech, playing for the first time in three weeks, became the front-runner in the ACC when both Florida State and Clemson were beaten the previous Saturday.
The Yellow Jackets couldn’t take advantage of the opportunity, their defense completely baffled by Dantzler’s passing and scrambling.
Now, the ACC race is in turmoil.
Maryland, coached by former Georgia Tech offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen, shares the conference lead with Virginia, both teams at 2-0 in league play.
“This is probably the biggest road win for Clemson in 20 years,” Tigers coach Tommy Bowden said. “A win in the conference is always big, but the people back home will get a blast out of this.”
Clemson appeared beaten when facing fourth-and-13 on its own 37 and the clock winding toward the two-minute mark.
Knowing his team had only one timeout remaining, Bowden decided to go for it. With Dantzler taking the snap, that turned out to be a wise decision.
While the quarterback was scrambling in the search for an open receiver, Chris Young – Georgia Tech’s best defensive back – came up too far on McKelvey and slipped while trying to recover at midfield.
McKelvey wound up uncovered as he hauled in the pass at the Yellow Jackets 35 and ran the rest of the way to give Clemson a 41-38 lead with 1:58 left, setting off a wild celebration by a small contingent of orange-clad fans in the crowd of 41,294.
But George Godsey guided Georgia Tech to a game-tying field goal, needing 10 plays to go 87 yards before Manget punched through a chip shot from 20 yards with six seconds remaining to force overtime.
Georgia Tech built a 19-7 lead late in the first half on Burns’ 1-yard scoring run. Dantzler turned the momentum in Clemson’s favor going to the locker room, scrambling out of the pocket, breaking one tackle and getting a great downfield block from receiver Derrick Hamilton on the 38-yard touchdown.
The play consumed the final 21 seconds of the half, with Dantzler reaching the end zone just as time ran out.
On the fourth play of the second half, Dantzler hooked up with a Matt Bailey on a 55-yard touchdown pass. Tech cornerback Albert Poree went for the interception and wound up getting burned.
That was the longest pass of Dantzler’s career – a mark that didn’t even last through the rest of the game.
Burns rushed 30 times for 126 yards and scored twice, Godsey completed 17-of-27 for 216 yards, with two throws going for touchdowns, and Manget kicked four field goals.
It wasn’t enough for a Georgia Tech defense that had given up just 21 points in its first three games, none against competition as stiff as the Tigers.
The Yellow Jackets lost middle linebacker Daryl Smith to an elbow injury in the second quarter, and Dantzler took advantage.
“We were a little lethargic out there on defense,” O’Leary said. “It looked like were grabbing at air.”
Clemson redeemed a devastating loss to the Yellow Jackets a year ago, when Godsey connected on a 16-yard scoring pass to Kerry Watkins with just seven seconds remaining for a 31-28 victory.
The Tigers entered this game plagued by injuries – especially to the receivers corps – but essentially turned it into a two-man game. Zachery ran 22 times for 79 yards and caught seven passes for 46 yards.
He and Dantzler were in on all but 5 yards produced by the offense.