Say “41-38” to any Georgia Tech fan and they will know exactly what opponent you are talking about. Depending on how old they are, they will tell you about one of two surreal football games that took place in 1990 and in 1998.
I was at the game in 1998. Virginia rolled into Atlanta 5-0 and ranked #7 in the nation. Virginia led 38-17 when Georgia Tech orchestrated one of their greatest ever comebacks in a game, sparked by a fumble in the third quarter that Tech returned for a touchdown. Joe Hamilton connected on two touchdown passes to Dez White and at the end of the game, Virginia’s kicker Todd Braverman missed a 54 yard game-tying field goal that sent the Tech crowd into a frenzy. The students stormed the field and tore down the goal posts.
That game was special, but it’s the 1990 game that I remember most fondly.
In 1990, Virginia was 7-0, ranked #1, and destroying their opponents. They had scored 50 or more points on four of their opponents and the closest anyone had come to them so far was Clemson in a 20-7 loss. CBS picked up the game and the story was all about Mr. Jefferson’s University. Georgia Tech was the sideshow, entering the game 6-0-1 and given no chance to win the game. The night before the game, someone had snuck onto the field and set the artificial turf on fire. The blame went everywhere. It was Tech students. It was Virginia students disguised as Tech students. And so on. Nonetheless, the game went on, with a conspicous patch of artificial turf from the baseball diamond in the middle of the field.
The game unfolded like a four-act play. Virginia immediately came out and quarterback Shawn Moore hefted a bomb down the field to receiver Herman Moore on the second play of the game. Two field goals later and Tech was on the ropes and reeling at the end of the first quarter down 13-0. In the second quarter, Shawn Jones streaked 20 yards to close the lead to 13-7. The phones between the sidelines and the press box went out and Offensive Coordinator Ralph Friedgen tiraded in the booth as he was cut off from the field. Another Moore-to-Moore bomb set up a touchdown and two point conversion to make the lead 21-7. The two teams traded touchdowns and went to the locker rooms after an offensive showcase of a first half. Tech was down 28-14 and it appeared Virginia was scoring at will, just like they had all season.
But Georgia Tech wouldn’t give up, scoring the the third quarter on a reverse and then scored again when Emmet Merchant made a circus catch when the ball bounced off his facemask. Another Moore-to-Moore bomb put Virginia up 35-28. Tech scored another touchdown and then followed it up with a field goal to take the first lead late in the game. Virigina tied with a field goal of its own which brought the game down to its final seconds and that’s when Scott Sisson stepped in the lore of Georgia Tech football. Sisson’s field goal gave Georgia Tech their first win over a #1 ranked team since Tech beat Alabama in 1962. The game was a springboard for their own run at a National Championship as they vaulted into the Top 10 after win and slowly climbed to #1 in the UPI poll after their Citrus Bowl victory over Nebraska. The Virginia game is perhaps one of the greatest games ever played in the post-Dodd era.
I remember watching the first half on TV and listening to the second half on the radio as we went to church that evening. We had some sort of “pot luck dinner” or something like that at the church that Saturday night and I arrived whooping and hollering because my favorite team had just won the biggest game of my young life then.
Tech hasn’t won in Scott Stadium since that fabled day in 1990. We’re about due for another 41-38 any time now.