Tech comeback wrecks Commodores in overtime, 24-17

Norval McKenzie scores (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

NASHVILLE-- Georgia Tech quarterback Reggie Ball did the "Ramblin'", and Vanderbilt's chances for a home win were left in wreckage on Dudley Field Saturday. The visiting Yellow Jackets rallied from a 17-10 fourth-quarter deficit to defeat the Commodores in overtime, 24-17, before 25,007 stunned fans.

NASHVILLE-- Georgia Tech quarterback Reggie Ball did the "Ramblin'", and Vanderbilt's chances for a home win were left in wreckage on Dudley Field Saturday. The visiting Yellow Jackets rallied from a 17-10 fourth-quarter deficit to defeat the Commodores in overtime, 24-17, before 25,007 stunned fans.

Ball's 25-yard first-down bootleg in overtime provided the winning points for Georgia Tech, a team that momentarily appeared poised to lose to a team it had mashed 45-3 one year earlier. But Ball's run, coupled seconds later with James Butler's interception of a Jay Cutler pass, completed a shocking Jacket blitzkrieg turnaround that left the Commodores dazed and devastated.

In a game that had developed into a defensive struggle in the second half, Bobby Johnson's Commodores had taken a 17-10 lead with 2:12 left in the game on a 76-yard drive, culminated by a 2-yard Norval McKenzie touchdown run.

But Tech's freshman quarterback Reggie Ball rallied the Yellow Jackets hurriedly downfield, 89 yards in 1:40, and hit tight end J. P. Foschi on a 6-yard touchdown pass to tie the game with 0:32 left.

Jay Cutler passed Vanderbilt in just 27 seconds from its own 36 to the Georgia Tech 27, from which Vanderbilt would attempt to win the game in regulation with a field goal. But defensive end Eric Henderson went up the middle to block Tolga Ertugrul's 44-yard attempt as time expired and sent the game into overtime.

In one of the quickest overtimes any fan will ever see, each team ran only a single play. Georgia Tech took the ball first and scored on Ball's 25-yard ramble; then Butler picked off a Cutler pass intended for McKenzie, and fell down at the 2-yard-line to seal the victory.

"The last play was my fault," said Cutler. "I take responsibility for the last drive. They played the pass well. We are coached better than that, and that was all me."

The Yellow Jackets of the Atlantic Coast Conference improved their record to 2-3, while Vanderbilt slumped to 1-4.

"It was a defensive battle all game," said a subdued Bobby Johnson after the painful loss. "I want to give credit to my defense and theirs. And also give credit to Ball. He made two great runs late in the fourth and the one in overtime."

The Ramblin' Wreck jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter on a 35-yard Dan Burnett field goal, followed by a 2-yard touchdown run by P. J. Daniels. But Vanderbilt's defense would proceed to hold Tech scoreless for the game's next 45 minutes.

Meanwhile the Vanderbilt offense began to pick up momentum. A 32-yard fake-pitch option keeper by Cutler to the Georgia Tech 12 set up a 9-yard scoring run by McKenzie early in the second quarter. Vandy trailed, 10-7.

Late in the first half the Commodores mounted another long drive that consumed the half's final four minutes, but stalled at Tech's 14-yard line. Ertugrul nailed a game-tying 32-yard field goal as the half ended. Neither team would score again until McKenzie's touchdown with 2:12 left in the game.

The loss negated a fine performance for 58 minutes by the Vanderbilt defense, as the Commodore defenders withstood several Tech scoring threats throughout the night. Linebacker Moses Osemwegie and cornerback Dominique Morris both came up with interceptions, and Osemwegie led Vandy in tackles with ten.

Ball, the Yellow Jackets' promising freshman, was held in check by the Vandy defense for much of the game, but still finished with impressive numbers thanks to three outstanding runs from scrimmage late in the game. He rushed for 104 yards on just 10 carries, and completed 11 of 22 passes for 123 yards.

"I had faith and just believed," said Ball. "I knew that something good was going to happen, and the defense blocked the field goal attempt. I'm exuberated right now."

The Commodores, riding a three-game losing streak and a 19-game SEC losing streak, travel next Saturday to Starkville, Miss. to face a struggling Mississippi State team. Jackie Sherrill's Bulldogs fell to 0-4, 0-1 in the SEC, after losing a home game Saturday to No. 7 LSU, 41-6.

"It could possibly be a tough time to come back next week, but we'll practice tomorrow and get better and see what happens," said Johnson.

GAME NOTES:

- Vanderbilt played once again without the services of starting offensive tackle Kenan Arkan and starting defensive tackle Ralph McKenzie. True freshman Brian Stamper started his second straight game in place of Arkan. True freshman Tom Sorensen replaced injured starter Steven Brent at center.

- Vanderbilt had not played in an overtime game since a 37-34 win over Ole Miss in 1999. The Commodores are now 2-2 all-time in overtime games.

- Georgia Tech adopted the curious strategy of squib-kicking its kickoffs, perhaps in deference to Vanderbilt returner Kwane Doster. Vanderbilt muffed its first two attempts at a return, and finished the game with 54 kickoff return yards on four tries.

- Saturday's game concludes a rare home-and-home series between the two teams, which used to play regularly before Georgia Tech exited the SEC in the mid-1960's. The two teams are not scheduled to meet again in the immediate future. Vanderbilt's last win in the series was in 1941.

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