Tech's Comeback Stings Tigers

by - Correspondent -
Kyle Browning's 54-yard touchdown run appeared appeared to seal the game for the Tigers.
Kyle Browning's 54-yard touchdown run appeared appeared to seal the game for the Tigers.

The picture said it all: Geoff Rigsby lying in a heap on the ground, hands wrapped around his head in anguish.

Rigsby's bad snap to punter Cole Chason was the centerpiece of a stunning series of events Saturday night which turned a seemingly certain Clemson victory into a devastating defeat at the hands of Georgia Tech, 28-24. The sudden, surreal change of direction left most of the sellout crowd of 82,000 sitting in stunned silence.

Only the small contingent of Georgia Tech fans in attendance went home happy, but not until they hung around long after the game, partying to the strands of the Yellow Jacket marching band celebrating in the West endzone stands.

The full story of the bizarre ending - capped by Reggie Ball's 11-yard touchdown pass to freshman wideout Calvin Johnson with :11 left to play - likely would be rejected by a Hollywood producer if presented in the form of a screen play. Even in the fantasy world of motion pictures do events such as these rarely happen.

Yet there they were, playing out in real life while many television viewers from across the nation tuned in for the waning moments in anticipation of their local news.

Instead, they witnessed one of the most dramatic finishes in the long, storied history of this rivalry - a final two minutes no one will soon forget.

Leading 24-14, Clemson's Tye Hill appeared to put the game away with an interception of Ball in the end zone. Instead, Hill was called for pass interference, the official ruling he pushed Johnson before making the catch.

Two plays later Ball found Johnson for an 8-yard touchdown pass, cutting the lead to 24-21 with 1:50 left in the game.

Tech (2-0) then attempted a low, line drive onside kick that was batted out of bounds by Clemson (1-1) at its own 33 - the Tigers needing only run out the final 1:49 to claim victory.

They appeared to get off to a good start, quarterback Charlie Whitehurst crossing up the Yellow Jacket defense with a keeper for nine yards. Whitehurst slid to avoid contact and protect the ball, coming up six inches short of the first down. It was a move which appeared to be meaningless at the time, but would soon prove to be the next step along the way to disaster.

What happened next won't soon be forgotten:

- On second and inches, Whitehurst was stopped short on a sneak attempt up the middle;

- On third and inches, tailback Yusef Kelly was also stopped short and nearly fumbled the football;

- Facing fourth and inches, Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden decided to let the play clock wind down and take a five-yard delay of game penalty with :23 to go;

Then came Rigsby's snap, which bounced past Chason and rolled all the way to the Clemson 11 yard line. Chason covered the ball there with :16 remaining.

Georgia Tech head coach Chan Gailey then decided to roll the dice and take a shot at the end zone before settling for a chip shot field goal that would mean overtime. He again called on Johnson, who beat Clemson cornerback Justin Miller for an 11-yard touchdown on a jump ball in the left corner of the end zone.

The score came with 11 seconds remaining.

Clemson had one final desperation shot. Forced to kickoff from its own 20 because of a celebration penalty after the touchdown, Tech's coverage team very nearly allowed Airese Currie to break off a game-winning return.

As it was, Currie raced 49 yards up the right sideline to the Tech 31, giving Clemson one final play with :03.

Bowden called Kelvin Grant's number, hoping the 6-foot-2 receiver would be able to pull down a jump ball of his own. But Grant was unable to beat double coverage in the left side of the endzone, getting a hand on Whitehurst's throw but nothing more.

The incredible final two minutes offset a pair of highlights for Clemson.

Tailback Reggie Merriweather broke off a 62-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter to give Clemson a 17-7 lead. The run is the longest by a tailback in Tommy Bowden's tenure as head coach, and the longest by a Clemson running back since Raymond Priester went 65 yards vs. South Carolina in 1996.

After Tech scored on a 19-yard pass from Ball to Levon Thomas to cut the lead back to three, Kyle Browning ripped off a 54-yard run for a score which put the Tigers back up 10, 24-14.

Each team had scored once in the first half - Tech on a 37-yard pass from Ball to Johnson, and Clemson on Whitehurst's 22-yarder to Curtis Baham.

The game remained tied 7-7 until Clemson kicker Stephen Furr connected on a 37-yard field goal with :20 left in the third quarter.

Ball finished with 251 yards passing, completing 20-of-36 with four touchdowns and an interceptions. Whitehurst was 20-of-43 for 275 yards, one score and two interceptions.


GT 7, Clemson 0

Scoring Drive: 8 plays, 80 yards in 2:55

Scoring Play: Ball's 37-yard pass to Johnson at 4:37.

Key Play: On second and 10 from his own 49, GT quarterback Reggie Ball scrambles for 11 yards.


Clemson 7, GT 7

Scoring Drive: 9 plays, 80 yards in 3:09

Scoring Play: Whitehurst's 22-yard pass to Baham at 12:49.

Key Play: On third and 7 at the GT 48, Whitehurst completes 10 yards to Grant.


Clemson 10, GT 7

Scoring Drive: 10 plays, 74 yards in 2:48

Scoring Play: Furr's 37-yard field goal at :20.

Key Play: On second and 11 from his own 25, Whitehurst's shovel pass to Stuckey is good for 23 yards.


Clemson 17, GT 7

Scoring Drive: 3 plays, 71 yards in :51

Scoring Play: Merriweather's 62-yard run at 8:19.

Key Play: Scoring Play

Clemson 17, GT 14

Scoring Drive: 5 plays, 49 yards in 1:20.

Scoring Play: Ball's 19-yard pass to Thomas at 4:36.

Key Play: On third and four at the CU 43, Ball completes to Johnson for nine yards.

Clemson 24, GT 14

Scoring Drive: 3 plays, 65 yards in 1:18

Scoring Play: Browning's 54-yard run at 3:18

Key Play: Scoring play

Clemson 24, GT 21

Scoring Drive: 8 plays, 51 yards in 1:28

Scoring Play: Ball's 8-yard pass to Johnson at 1:50.

Key Play: Defensive pass interference on Tye Hill which negated his interception in the end zone two plays before the touchdown.

GT 28, Clemson 24

Scoring Drive: 1 play, 11 yards, :05

Scoring Play: Ball's 11-yard pass to Johnson at :11

Key Play: Bad snap on Clemson punt which gave GT possession at CU 11.

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