I’ve always been a huge football fan. Now, I’ve never played a down of the sport, but I’ve lived and breathed it for as long as I can remember. One of my earliest memories is of the final play of Super Bowl XXXIV; I was 2-years-old and awed by a navy-shirted man who dove for a big white line as a white-shirted man grabbed for his ankles. Ever since then, I’ve been hooked to the sport, watching every game I can and learning as much about its deep and rich history as possible. I used to be a huge bandwagon fan; I grew up in an era where my hometown team (the San Francisco 49ers) was middling at best and Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady ruled the skies, the scoreboards, and the record books; so naturally, I was drawn to the teams that won the most: the Packers, Colts, and Patriots of the NFL. Watching these teams play instilled me with a love of the game and a love of victory that remains to this day.
But there’s one thing I love more than winning: storming a football field. Storming a field is something every sports fan should do in their lifetime. Regardless of how great your team(s) is/are, when they get a big win, you should rush the field. It’s one of the greatest and most exhilarating experiences you will ever have. Over the course of a tight game, you feel the tension and excitement in the stadium build and bubble, and in that first moment of victory — that final moment of regulation, it all teems over onto the field, as hundreds of fans spill on to the grass when the clock hits :00 to celebrate with the team.
I’ve cherished every time I’ve run on to a field in celebration, but one time stands out amongst the rest. This is a story of heartbreak and joy— a tale of disbelief and elation — an account of crushed dreams and newfound hope. This is the story of the Miracle on Techwood Drive.
The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets began the 2015 season ranked #16 in the AP Poll. After demolishing ‘cupcake’ opponents Alcorn State and Tulane by a combined score of 134–16, the Yellow Jackets’ lack of depth at key positions and weak defense caught up with them, sending them straight into a five-game skid.
The Florida State Seminoles opened the season at #10 in the AP Poll and sprinted out to a 6–0 start, outscoring opponents by an average of 18.2 points. The Seminoles hadn’t lost an ACC game since 2012, and they looked to extend their streak of 29 consecutive conference victories in Atlanta. They entered Bobby Dodd Stadium as the #9 team in the nation and favored to win by six points, but knowing the dire condition of the Yellow Jackets, everyone expected Everett Golson and the Seminoles to roll Tech.
But through three quarters of play, the #9-ranked Seminoles found themselves locked in a tight battle in Atlanta, leading 16–13. With 4:25 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Yellow Jackets began an 8-play, 45-yard drive, eating up as much clock as they could as they marched towards the Florida State endzone. But Jalen Ramsey and the Seminole defense held firm in the red zone, and the Tech drive stalled out at the FSU 17. Kicker Harrison Butker tied the game at 16 with a 35-yard field goal, leaving only 54 seconds on the clock for FSU to put together a drive to win the game.
The FSU offense took the field at their own 25 and immediately ran plays with surgical precision. The Tech crowd groaned; they had seen this before — versus UNC and Pittsburgh, they had watched in agony as Tech, with momentum and the lead, clutched defeat from the jaws of victory because of its inability to stop anyone on offense. Dalvin Cook and Everett Golson carved up the Tech defense, but their drive eventually stalled out at the Tech 38. With six seconds remaining, FSU kicker Roberto Aguayo trotted on to the field, getting ready to attempt had never missed a 4th quarter field goal in his career and was perfect on the year. With the game on the line, a home crowd that had been excited and noisy all game became deafening. Aguayo set his feet, calm and confident in his leg, even though the field goal he was about to attempt would be the longest of his career — 56 yards. The ball rifled towards his holder, and with the ball set, Aguayo launched it into the air. And then….
Tech defensive tackle Patrick Gamble had gotten a hand on Aguayo’s low kick at the line of scrimmage. It bounced around back at the Tech 25 before Lance Austin got his hands on it and began to run towards the Tech sideline. Tech head coach Paul Johnson tried to wave Austin off, but changed his mind once he saw the blocks being made in front of Austin. Austin sprinted towards the north end zone, cashing in a 76-yard blocked field goal return for a touchdown and winning the game for Georgia Tech, 22–16.
Students in the north end zone of Bobby Dodd Stadium (myself included) could barely watch the last six seconds of the game. We feared the exact same outcome as the Pittsburgh game, a last-minute field goal to gift the game to the opponent. But we remained rambunctious, creating a thunderous roar to rock the FSU special teams unit from behind. Once we saw the kick was blocked, we cheered; at least, now Tech had a chance to win in overtime. No one saw Lance Austin running with the ball until he turned the corner and ran along the Tech sideline. We watched with anticipation and cheered louder and louder as he shed would-be tacklers, juked out holder Carson Beatty, and forced Roberto Aguayo to spin like a top (and miss a tackle he virtually guaranteed he would make the previous year).
We emptied the stands as soon as Austin crossed the goal line. No one was going to stop us from reaching the grass and celebrating. We sprinted down the metal steps towards the barrier wall of the stands and vaulted ourselves and our friends over it and on to the field. In all the chaos, someone had stolen the wooden T used as a podium for the Mr. and Mrs. Georgia Tech announcements at halftime and hoisted it above the crowd, where it crowd-surfed atop a sea of white- and gold-clad students.
David had struck down Goliath — middling Georgia Tech had taken down Florida State. But the Jackets never quite reached another moment like that all season; they stumbled through the rest of their schedule, losing the next four games and placing out of the bowl season for the first time in 19 years. The 2015 football season may have been an utter disappointment as a Yellow Jacket fan, but that game and the night that followed are among my most treasured memories and will undoubtedly be a centerpiece of my college experience. Here’s to 2016 and making more of those memories in the years to come.