Homecomings are great. The school designates a fall weekend for its alumni to come visit, schedules an easy football opponent, and everyone gets to reminisce about the good times watching some stress-free football.
Leave it to Georgia Tech to decide something commonly considered to be easy..... shouldn’t be. When looking at the 2009 football schedule, Tech could have set homecoming that year a little early and picked UNC, or set it a little late and picked Wake Forest. Instead, it picked the only home October game on the schedule: Virginia Tech.
Everyone knew right away it was going to be a tough game. Virginia Tech was hot: the Hokies were in year six of an eight year stretch which saw them win at least ten games every year and came into 2009 as two-time defending ACC champions, with a win in the previous season’s Orange Bowl to boot. They entered this game sitting at 5-1 so far on the season, with their only loss coming in their season opener to Alabama. Yes, that Alabama, which toppled Tim Tebow’s Florida Gators and went undefeated on their way to another national championship.
Georgia Tech also came into this game at 5-1, but it wouldn’t be unfair to say they didn’t pass everyone’s eye test. At home on Thursday night, the Yellow Jackets had blown a large lead against Clemson only to notch a last second victory thanks to Scott Blair’s boot. The next week, they were demolished in Miami. They’d scored 91 points in the two games right before this one - and given up 75. Expecting to win in a similar way when facing a Bud Foster coached defense is not an advisable strategy. When asked about the state of his defense in advance of this game, Paul Johnson offered this response:
“Our defense doesn’t look like they know what they’re doing,” is really not something you want to hear your head coach say, ever, especially not right before your first home game against a top 5 opponent in ages. The Hokies were looking to crash Georgia Tech’s homecoming, and it’s safe to say the numbers were in their favor.
The atmosphere was electric by the time the game kicked off on a chilly evening in Atlanta. Virginia Tech got the ball first, but the Hokies quickly found themselves looking at 3rd and long. The video coordinator at Bobby Dodd Stadium played a 3rd down hype video, featuring..... some new rap song no one in the crowd had heard before. The team had, though, and they were hyped. Energized by the playing of this song, Georgia Tech.... immediately called timeout, only to give up a 40 yard pass on the next play. The video coordinator would not be discouraged, and this song would make its presence known again later.
Ultimately, though, the Hokies would get down to the Georgia Tech 36 before penalties and sacks forced them to punt. And, oh, did the first half bring the punts. Georgia Tech hadn’t punted at all in their previous week’s game at Florida State, and just twice the week before at Mississippi State; their first four drives in this game all ended in punts. Midway through the second quarter, an ESPN graphic popped up indicating the Jackets had gained a grand total of 16 yards on 19 plays. Virginia Tech, for their part, fared little better: their first four possessions ended in punt, punt, interception, punt. As much as Bud Foster’s defense was flummoxing Paul Johnson’s offense, Brian Stinespring’s anemic offense was proving to be the antidote for Georgia Tech’s defensive woes.
Eventually, the Hokies struck first. Finally reaching the red zone with just five minutes remaining in the first half, the Jackets’ defense bowed up again and forced a field goal. Now the game was on: the first eight possessions of the game had produced seven punts and zero scoring drives; eight of the remaining fourteen resulted in points and only one in a punt.
With four minutes left in the first half, the Jackets had exactly as much time as they needed. After a nine yard keeper on first down, Joshua Nesbitt threw a 51 yard bomb to Demaryius Thomas. It was his only completion (out of seven attempts) in the game, so, as is typical of Tech offenses, he made it count. That would set up a Tech touchdown with 32 seconds remaining in the half, ending one of the longest scoring droughts in Paul Johnson’s tenure.
You’d think 32 seconds wouldn’t be enough time for a Georgia Tech defense to allow their opponents to score again before the end of the half..... and in this case, you’d be correct: even though Tech’s special teams allowed the Hokies to return the ensuing kickoff back to midfield, the amount of time that had expired on that return and the following two scrambles by Tyrod Taylor plus a holding penalty forced them to attempt a Hail Mary. Football magnet Morgan Burnett intercepted it in the enzone to end the first half.
Tech had scored in 3:30 to end the first half; they decided they’d move even faster to open the second. Virginia Tech’s kickoff sailed out of bounds to set the Jacket’s up at their own 40; and Nesbitt, Jonathan Dwyer, and Anthony Allen teamed up to move 60 yards in six plays and three minutes. Things looked good for the Jackets.... for a minute or so, until the following kickoff, which Dyrell Roberts returned to the Georgia Tech 26. And yet, the Jacket defense stood tall again: on fourth and 2, Ryan Williams was stuffed. The Jackets had forced a turnover on downs in four plays.
The effort was for naught: Tech’s fourth play of the following possession was a pass, which found its way onto the doorstep of Dorian Porch. The next play, Ryan Williams ran untouched up the middle for 66 yards. Seven minutes into the second half, the Hokies had finally gotten the touchdown they were looking for.
Tech would not be discouraged. Instead, the Jackets decided to stick with what they did best. The following drive lasted twelve plays, and every single one was a rush. Along with Nesbitt, Dwyer, and Allen, Preston Lyons even got in on the fun, and it was the diminutive Marcus Wright who ran around to the left for thirteen yards to score the touchdown.
For some reason, Tech kicked the ball to Dyrell Roberst again on the following kickoff. Thankfully, he only returned this one to the Virginia Tech 41. Tyrod Taylor scrambled for four yards, only for Ryan Williams to be tackled in the backfield on the next play for a loss of three. That set up 3rd and 9, with the final seconds ticking down in the third quarter. The stadium video coordinator decided to try that new rap song one more time:
ALL THE WAY TURNT UP
ALL THE WAY TURNT UP
ALL THE WAY TURNT UP
ALL THE WAY TURNT UP
The defense was finally at full power, and the sounds of Roscoe Dash and Travis porter motivated a thunderous sack of Taylor by Derrick Morgan to end the quarter and force another punt.
Something weird happened on the following possession that’s mostly just forgotten. On the third play, Nesbitt kept the ball on third and 2 and.... seemingly did not convert. The chain gang came out to measure. It looked short. Then the head ref rotated the ball and.... signaled for a first down? Bob Davie and Mark May puzzled on this for a few minutes after the fact. It was an odd turn of events, but ultimately one which did not matter. Two plays later, Wright dropped an errant pitch from Nesbitt. That one was recovered, but it an omen of things to come: a few plays later, Nesbitt tossed another errant pitch, this one to Roddy Jones. Virginia Tech recovered that one. A delayed instance of “ball don’t lie”? Perhaps. Georgia Tech had burned off seven and a half minutes of clock but ended up with nothing to show for it.
The Hokies quickly capitalized off the gift they’d been given. They rode three huge plays - an 18 yard pass from Taylor to Danny Coale, a 21 yard carry from Williams, and finally a 22 yard scramble from Taylor - to score in just two and a half minutes. A two point conversion would cut the lead to three.... but it was tipped up by T.J. Barnes and fell incomplete.
Then Tech made the killshot. On third and 7 at the Virginia Tech 39, Nesbitt kept the ball, ran through a hole in the left side, shrugged off a tackle attempt by Porch, and was in the endzone. A key block from Tyler Melton on Kam Chancellor sprung him.
It feels a bit cruel to single out Chancellor here, given the recent announcement of his retirement. But the story of this game is incomplete if he goes unmentioned. Back in the summer, at the ACC’s media day, Chancellor boasted of solving Georgia Tech’s unconventional offense. He’d been thwarted on the earlier touchdown from Wright; he was once again defeated on the game winning play. In the aftermath of the game, he and Frank Beamer would engage in a war of words with Johnson over the legality of Georgia Tech’s blocks. Solved the flexbone, Chancellor had not.
Back to the game, which wasn’t over yet. The Hokies were down twelve points with just three minutes remaining and no timeouts, but if they played their cards right, they still had a chance. After a short kickoff, they went 61 yards in five plays and 1:12, to bring them back to within one score. They just had to make an onside kick and they were in position to win. They could do it. Beamerball.
Georgia Tech sent out the hands team, anticipating the kick. Jaybo Shaw was out there; Bob Davie pronounced his name “Jah-bo”, somehow. Even Nesbitt was out there. The Hokies had two kickers out in an attempt at misdirection.
None of this ended up meaning anything. The onside kick bounced high into the air, landing right into the hands of return specialist Jerrard Tarrant. Frank Beamer’s reaction was simple, but effective.
A few kneeldowns later, and Georgia Tech had claimed victory over the #4 ranked Hokies. The Jackets had claimed their biggest home win since defeating top ranked Alabama back in 1962. Fans poured on the field for the second major upset at Bobby Dodd in as many years. “All the Way Turnt Up” became a minor hit, as it continued to be sung back in the locker room, and even got some prime radio time from professional sports talking guy Jim Rome, before Roscoe Dash dropped Travis Porter for Soulja Boy and released a far inferior version. (This is the original; accept no substitutes.)
Meanwhile, back outside.... there were still a lot of people out on Grant Field. A lot of people. After the band played through their repertoire of post-game hype songs - twice - it was clear the crowd had their sights set on something more. Something bigger.
They had their sights set on the north goalpost.
Security tried to keep people away from the goalpost. Their efforts were in vain, as the crowd was far too large and they far too few in number. People climbed up onto the crossbar. They shook, and swayed, and stomped, until....
....it was no more.
The goalpost made a circuit around Grant Field before being carried out. It had a long journey ahead of it before reaching its final destination: President Bud Peterson’s doorstep. The crowd carried it through the streets: down Techwood, over to Fowler, and up to Tenth, merrily singing and cheering along the way. Bud was happy to welcome them and give a speech, as they had followed his one condition:
“Don’t hurt my wife.”