In the words of the late great comedy troupe Monty Python: And now for something completely different.
Georgia Tech did something unexpected Saturday night: It held our attention.
The Yellow Jackets did something even less likely than that: They played defense.
They did something implausible: They won.
After a five-game losing streak.
Over a top-10 team. Over Florida State, which hadn’t lost to an ACC opponent in more than three years and 28 games.
They did this on a 78-yard return following a blocked 56-yard field-goal attempt as time ran out.
Do you need a moment?
The final score was 22-16. At least I think that was the final score. The room started spinning in the final seconds.
“It still hasn’t hit me,” said Lance Austin, mostly a special teams player whose end-of-game score seemed to try to make up for Tech’s year of misery all on one play (at least emotionally, if not in the standings).
Tech never kicked the extra point after the improbable touchdown because: 1) It wasn’t needed; 2) Because there was no way the officials would be able to clear the several thousand fans who had streamed onto the field after this Higher Power of miracles; 3) Because I’m pretty sure Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher had passed out, anyway, and couldn’t direct his players back onto the field.
Wins aren’t expected this season at Tech — they’re begged for.
Wins like this aren’t expected by any team, even good ones — they just occasionally drop from the heavens like winning lottery tickets.
Don’t look at the standings, Tech fans. Instead, feel free to relive this moment on YouTube from now until forever.
Tech’s only wins this season had come over Alcorn State and Tulane, which don’t really count. It was was 0-4 in the ACC and on the way to by far the worst season in the Paul Johnson era. But it trailed only 16-10 at halftime. A defense that had been allowing 36.5 points in conference games was frustrating the Seminoles’ often turbo-powered offense. The offense, meanwhile, was suffering hiccups. But a 40-yard field goal by Harrison Butker in the third quarter narrowed the deficit to three points, and Butker tied the score with his third of the game with 54 seconds left.
Overtime seemed imminent. This didn’t: The Seminoles drove 37 yards in eight plays, setting up a 56-yard field goal attempt by Roberto Aguayo. But the kick was blocked by Patrick Gamble.
Then Austin looked down, saw the ball, picked it up and thought, “Why not?”
“I thought, ‘OK, maybe I can return it. Then I saw Aguayo, and he’s a pretty good tackler. Once I made him miss and made it to the end zone … it was kind of surreal.”
Yeah. Kind of.
Tech channeled Auburn from two years ago against Alabama, when the Tigers’ Chris Davis returned a missed 57-yard field goal 100 yards for a winning score. Austin slowly weaved up the middle of the field, cut left and blasted off down the sideline, making frantic Florida State defenders miss along the way.
When Austin reached the end zone, Bobby Dodd Stadium erupted like Mt. Vesuvius (this story had a happier ending) and the Jackets had their most improbable victory in history.
Did that just happen?
Even Johnson was dazed. After the block, he told his players to get away from the ball, fearing a fumble and bizarreness in the other direction.
“I go from yelling, ‘Get away from it’ to ‘Run, run, run,’” he said.
Florida State had a 28-game winning streak in the ACC (regular-season and conference-title games). It’s last loss came to North Carolina State in October 2012.
And as if this story needed another layer, here it is: Lance, a backup defensive back, and his twin brother Lawrence, a starting lineup, lost their grandmother to cancer in January. The Yellow Jackets were in Miami preparing for the Orange Bowl when it happened.
“Me and Lawrence still decided to play the game because we knew that’s what she wanted,” Lance said.
As a tribute to Louise Austin, Lawrence shaved his head before the season. Lance shaved his in early October.
“Every game I usually try to write her name somewhere,” Lance said. “So tonight I had it on my sleeve: ‘RIP Louise.’ I knew she was looking down on me tonight.”
Lawrence was one of the first players to reach his brother in the end zone after the touchdown.
“He said, ‘You did it for her.’ And I did,” Lance said.
An unforgettable moment in an otherwise forgettable season.
The Tech season has been like watching a deflating tire. The early loss at Notre Dame wasn’t a shock. But stumbling on Tobacco Road, losing to Duke and North Carolina for the second consecutive year, bordered on embarrassing. Losing at Clemson: excusable. Losing at home to Pitt: not so much.
Bowl hopes: dead. ACC Coastal Division hopes: dead. Conference title hopes: dead.
Strangely, however, the Jackets looked alive against Florida State. Even more bizarre: The Seminoles had only 35 yards in offense through four possessions by midway through the second quarter. But they led 10-3 because Tech quarterback Justin Thomas kept throwing to the wrong team. Two interceptions led to a field goal and a touchdown.
Thomas began to make amends for his pratfalls. He completed a 33-yard pass to Ricky Jeune after scrambling away from pressure in the end zone and then he ran 60 yards for a touchdown. Tech trailed 13-10 at halftime. The undefeated and No. 9 ranked team in the nation was scrambling.
Even when the offense struggled, the defense kept Tech in it. I can’t believe I just typed those words.
What followed wasn’t so believable, either.
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