Nov. 9, 2000
By Paul Newberry
ATLANTA - Most teams have at least one wild and crazy game each season. For Georgia Tech and Virginia, it always seems to happen this time of year.
Momentous comebacks and fluky upsets are the norm when these Atlantic Coast Conference rivals get together.
Two seasons ago, Virginia was ranked No. 7 and ran all over the Yellow Jackets, piling up 600 yards and building a 38-17 lead in the third quarter. Tech somehow managed to rally for a 41-38 victory.
Last year, the Yellow Jackets were a Top 10 team with hopes of reaching the Bowl Championship Series until Virginia - with quarterback David Rivers making his one and only start for the Cavaliers - overcame a pair of 17-point deficits to beat Tech 45-38.
The combined margin in the last four meetings is 20 points, with each team winning twice. Virginia won the 1997 game 35-31, making this only the second series in ACC history where both teams have scored at least 30 points three straight times.
"All the games we've had with them lately have been track meets," said Georgia Tech coach George O'Leary, whose team plays host to Virginia on Thursday night. Overall, 12 of the 22 meetings have been decided by a touchdown or less. That includes the classic 1990 game, when the Yellow Jackets upset No. 1-ranked Virginia 41-38 on their way to a share of the national title.
"Just give me a win," Tech offensive lineman Brent Key said. "I don't care how we get it."
The Yellow Jackets are still upset about the way they lost last year.
"We didn't put them away," linebacker Recardo Wimbush said. "We didn't have the killer instinct. We just gave up."
After that stinging defeat, Tech lost two of its final three games as well.
"We got to a certain point and stalled," O'Leary said. "We got to seven or eight wins and I don't know how much better we got."
This Tech team, which was supposed to be rebuilding after the loss of Heisman Trophy runner-up Joe Hamilton, seems to be getting better each week. The Yellow Jackets are coming off their biggest victory of the season, a 31-28 upset of then-unbeaten Clemson.
Key said the chemistry is much better now than it was in 1999, when Hamilton had a great personal season, but the team fell short of expectations.
"Any time you get a guy like Joe Hamilton who is such a big-time player, some of the other players tend to shy away," Key said. "This year, there's not a huge spotlight on one player. We're coming together more. Everybody is a leader instead of looking to one person."
Virginia needs one victory to become bowl eligible and two more to extend its streak of seven-win seasons to 14.
"All I've said to the team is, 'Six wins, let's get it."' coach George Welsh said. "They know. I don't have to tell them that."
The Cavaliers have struggled on offense, scoring only 20 points in their last two games. The slump coincided with quarterback Dan Ellis' hamstring injury, which caused him to miss a 37-3 loss to Florida State and limited his effectiveness in a 17-6 victory over North Carolina.
"We were hitting our stride," Welsh said. "Then the whole complexion changed."
But the Cavs have always been a hard-nosed running team, and this year is no exception. Junior tailback Antwoine Womack has gained 852 yards, averaging 5 yards every time he touches the ball.
The biggest surprise for Georgia Tech has been quarterback George Godsey, who replaced Hamilton. The man known as "Goose" to his teammates is the seventh-rated quarterback in the country after throwing for a school-record 454 yards against Clemson. "Earlier in the season, they were still running some of that option stuff that Hamilton did so well," Welsh said. "You see very little of that now in the last few weeks. They decided that they have good receivers and Godsey is a good quarterback."