Posted: Sunday, September 12th 2004 at 3:25am
Another crazy chapter written in Clemson-Georgia Tech rivalry
By The Associated Press
For the past decade, Georgia Tech and Clemson have had one of college football's craziest rivalries, with a rash of games decided by a few points, most of them with wild swings before the final whistle.
But Saturday night's game had to be the craziest. It added Calvin Johnson's leaping game-winning catch for the Yellow Jackets and Geoff Rigsby low, skipping snap flying past the Tiger punter with less than 20 seconds to go to a rivalry that could easily fill a day of programming on ESPN Classic.
Georgia Tech's 28-24 win marked the eighth time in the past 10 years its game with Clemson has been decided by less than a touchdown. In six of those games, the winning margin was exactly a field goal.
So "The Snap" and the freshman Johnson leaping high over Justin Miller to haul in the winning score will join plays like Kerry Watkins' one-armed catch with seven seconds to go to give the Yellow Jackets a 31-28 win in 2000.
Or Woodrow Dantzler's meandering 38-yard touchdown run as the first half ended and his 11-yard, weaving, game-winning jaunt in the Tigers 47-44 overtime win in 2001.
Or even Nealon Greene's 1-yard plunge that was so close it took officials nearly a minute to signal the game-winning touchdown in Clemson's 28-25 win in 1996.
"They told me these are some crazy games," Georgia Tech quarterback Reggie Ball said in the locker room. "Now I believe them."
But to focus on the snap and the catch in the final 20 seconds ignores one of the strangest fourth quarters ever seen in Death Valley.
The teams scored five touchdowns in the final 8:19, and the Yellow Jackets had three scores in the final 4:36.
Twice, Clemson appeared to put the game away taking 10-point leads on long runs by tailbacks who didn't have a carry in the season opener. But each time, Ball led his team on lightening quick scoring drives that each took less than 90 seconds.
"You may watch a lot of football in your life, but you may never see anything like that," Georgia Tech coach Chan Gailey said. "I hope you enjoyed it. I did."
The win knocked Clemson (1-1, 1-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) out of The Associated Press Top 25.
For Ball and running back P.J. Daniels, Saturday's game was redemption. The two played awful against Clemson last year, with the then-freshman quarterback going 19-of-42 and the ACC's leading rusher gaining just 34 yards in a 39-3 loss.
This season, Ball completed 20 of 36 passes for 251 yards and four touchdowns, while Daniels ran for 103 yards on 24 carries.
And Johnson gave the Yellow Jackets (2-0, 1-0) another game-breaker, catching eight passes for 127 yards and three touchdowns
In Clemson's locker room the Tigers were both down and defiant.
The Tigers had 199 yards rushing, outgained the Yellow Jackets by more than 100 yards and sacked Ball six times.
No one wanted to blame Rigsby exclusively, including coach Tommy Bowden, who helped his long snapper off the field after he stayed down on the grass for several agonizing moments after his bad snap.
"Geoff hadn't done that in a year-and-a-half and it just happened to happen tonight," Bowden said after the game.
After all, the Tigers were stuffed for no gain twice after quarterback Charlie Whitehurst's keeper gained nine yards with 1:30 to go. And Whitehurst might have gotten the first down himself if he had plowed forward instead of sliding to avoid a hit. Then there was the pass interference call on Tye Hill that erased an interception in the end zone with two minutes to go.
"We did some things that were really uncharacteristic for this team," Bowden said.
But Clemson still had a chance to win even after Georgia Tech's final score. Airese Currie returned the kickoff to the Georgia Tech 31 and probably would have scored with just one more block.
Then with 3 seconds to go, a floater Whitehurst heaved to Kelvin Grant fell incomplete as three Yellow Jackets swarmed the receiver in the end zone.
Many Clemson players compared Saturday's heartbreaking loss to last year's 45-17 beating by Wake Forest that ended up being the turning point for a team that would win its last four and finish at 9-4.
"To be that close to a win and have it taken out of our hands really hurts," linebacker Leroy Hill said. "As seniors we have to regroup and have everyone focused on the next game. This game doesn't end our season. We still have everything to play for."
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