On New Year’s Eve, Georgia Tech will play Mississippi State in the Orange Bowl for a chance at just the fifth 11-win season in school history. Still, whatever unfolds in Sun Life Stadium that night, it will be quite unlikely to match arguably the two biggest highlights of the season, which took place just minutes apart at the end of the Yellow Jackets’ 30-24 overtime win over the Bulldogs Nov. 29.
Among Tech fans, they’re already known as “The Kick and the Pick” – kicker Harrison Butker’s 53-yard field goal to tie the game in the final seconds of regulation and cornerback D.J. White’s interception to end Georgia’s overtime possession and clinch Tech’s first win over Georgia since 2008 in one of the most memorable games in the rivalry’s history. Tech players, coaches and one student manager shared their memories of the two indelible plays, the first of which was set up by the Bulldogs taking a 24-21 lead with 18 seconds left in regulation after Tech quarterback Justin Thomas’ fumble with 2:41 remaining.
Thomas: “I wasn’t happy with myself. I was watching the Jumbotron. I was going in and out, watching the game on the Jumbotron. Everybody was like, We’re good, the game’s not over with. I knew that. I wasn’t out of the game.”
Left guard Trey Braun: “I remember getting into the huddle (before Tech’s final possession of regulation), and we were like, We’ve got to get into field-goal range to get it, and we knew we were going to. It was just something (where) we came together and we weren’t discouraged. We just knew we had a job to do.”
Coach Paul Johnson: “Actually, what I told Justin was, we put three receivers to one side and we were going to put (wide receiver) Darren (Waller) on the other side and just throw a jump ball to him and then try to clock it and we could get in field-goal range. (Thomas) saw an opening and took off and got just far enough.”
Johnson sent the field-goal team out with four seconds left on the clock to tie the game. With about four seconds remaining on the play clock, Georgia called timeout.
Butker: “If you look at it, as soon as (holder) Ryan (Rodwell) puts his hands down, that’s when I’m supposed to take my steps (to set up for the kick). For some reason, Ryan put his hand down and then I did kind of like a casual leg swing. Looking back, it was just pretty stupid. I should have taken my steps.”
Rodwell: “I remember looking at the (play clock) as he was taking his steps and watching it wind down a little bit fast and kind of looked at him, wanting him to hurry up a little bit.”
Butker: “(Without Georgia calling timeout), I think Ryan would have started the cadence around two or three seconds and the ball would have gotten snapped. But I would have been caught off guard. I did not know the time was going down.”
Rodwell: “Honestly, if they didn’t call a timeout, I don’t know if we would have gotten the kick off. We were running out there, trying to get lined up. It was kind of a rushed ordeal. I’m just kind of glad they called a timeout.”
Butker: “Honestly, I was just like, I’ve just got to do my best. I felt like, if I missed it, then it wouldn’t be too bad, just because it was a long field goal. I think that actually helped me, because I was just relaxed, I was calm.”
Student manager Nick DiDonato, who was stationed under the goal post: “We knew it was going to be close, but you couldn’t tell if it was going to make it or be short.”
Butker: “I told myself, don’t kill it, because I didn’t want to have the ball curve wide left because that’s usually what happens when you try to kill it. So I kind of just stroked it and then I didn’t hit it well and then I was like, the wind’s got it. I didn’t think the distance was going to be an issue at all, and then I was like, Oh. Well, it is kind of close.”
Rodwell: “When you see it come off his foot, you can see if it’s a good one. I remember standing there, I was just kind of bouncing up and down, just watching the ball go through the uprights.”
DiDonato: “I remember people behind us were Georgia fans. It was silent behind us and then all the Tech section on the other side was going crazy.”
Thomas: “I heard it come off the foot and I looked up and saw it in the air and then our sideline started going crazy. It’s like, We got another chance.”
Defensive line coach Mike Pelton: “Once we made that kick, our kids felt like, Hey, this is ours.”
After B-back Zach Laskey scored a touchdown on the opening possession of overtime, the extra-point try was blocked, the Bulldogs’ second block of a kick in the game. In its possession, Georgia advanced the ball to the Tech 9-yard line, where it faced a second-and-goal.
White: “It was man coverage. I was singled up to the boundary and the guy (wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell) kind of gave me a move and came back inside.”
Linebacker Tremayne McNair: “I had a (running) back man to man. He went across and I passed him to ‘Q’ (linebacker Quayshawn Nealy) and I saw (Georgia quarterback) Hutson Mason. I looked at him and he looked at me. That’s when he pumped his arm and I just jumped. (The ball) went right past me.”
White: “I was able to get my hands on him and locate the ball and make a play. It was pretty simple, but, yeah, that’s what happened.”
McNair: “I saw (the interception) right away and I tried to tackle (White). I had to tell him to get down.”’
Butker: “It was bad that the extra point got blocked. That’s why I was more excited than anybody else that D.J. got the interception.”
Safety Jamal Golden: “I just remember running 100 yards down the field to our fan base and just celebrating with them and then, after that, the locker room scene was probably the greatest locker room that I’ve ever seen since I’ve been here. … It was crazy. You had coach Johnson dancing with the team. You had everybody jumping up and down and you had the presentation of the Governor’s Cup.”
McNair: “It was an unbelievable feeling. It’s my fourth year, last time against Georgia. For that to happen, I didn’t know what to say. I was just excited.”
Pelton: “You hear it from everybody how good (the Bulldogs) are, how great the recruits they get (are) and this and that. You always hear (about) the other school, but it just felt good for once to beat those guys and be able to walk around and know that you belong.”
White: “It’s hard to describe. The rivalry means so much to me and my teammates. Just seeing my teammates and my coaches and how excited they were, that’s a feeling that I’ll never forget. Indescribable.”
Defensive coordinator Ted Roof: “I think that whole scenario right there is a microcosm of our team. That’s who our guys are. That’s who we are. Guys that don’t let go of the rope and just keep fighting.”
Johnson: “What a game. Had ’em all the way.”
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