Photo courtesy of Clemson athletics
The series between Clemson and Georgia Tech in recent years has been pretty lopsided. Entering this season, the Tigers had won six straight in the series with none decided by fewer than 14 points.
There was a time however, where the Yellow Jackets had the upper hand. On this day 20 years ago, Clemson shocked those at Bobby Dodd Stadium by outlasting a top-10 Georgia Tech team in an overtime shootout, 47-44.
Setting the Stage
Clemson had lost four straight to Georgia Tech as it arrived in Atlanta on Sept. 29, 2001. The Tigers had gotten off to an 8-0 start the year before and ascended into the AP top 5 before a 31-28 loss to the Yellow Jackets started a downward spiral that saw Clemson lose three of its final four games in 2000. Clemson started 2-0 and ranked in the top 20 to begin the 2001 season, but a heartbreaking loss to Virginia knocked it out of the polls.
Like Clemson, Georgia Tech had finished 9-3 in 2000. Playing its first game in three weeks, Georgia Tech had ascended to No. 9 early on during the 2001 campaign. The Yellow Jackets had held each of their first three opponents to just seven points, outscoring them by a combined margin of 118-21.
A Wild Finish
Including overtime, the second half saw the lead change hands seven times. Clemson took a 27-26 lead to the final quarter and extended that to eight less than two minutes in on Travis Zachery’s third rushing touchdown of the night.
Georgia Tech however, refused to go quietly. Joe Burns’ second 1-yard touchdown run of the game cut the lead to two before a 10-yard touchdown run by Sidney Ford gave the Yellow Jackets their first lead of the quarter, 38-34. A 2-point conversion was missed after each touchdown for the Yellow Jackets.
It took Clemson less than two minutes to answer. After converting a third down, Woodrow Dantzler’s 63-yard touchdown pass to J.J. McKelvey put the Tigers back in front, 41-38.
Georgia Tech’s final drive of regulation began at its own 20-yard-lne with 2:15 to play. The Yellow Jackets methodically marched inside the Clemson 10-yard-line, but the Tigers stiffened on defense.
After an incomplete pass and a tackle for loss, Georgia Tech’s George Godsey found Kerry Watkins, but the Clemson defense corralled him three yards short of the end zone. With nine seconds to play, Luke Manget’s third field goal of the night — a 20-yard make — tied the game and forced overtime.
Georgia Tech was forced to take the ball first in the extra period, but again, the Clemson defense came through when it mattered. On 3rd-and-1, Burns was stuffed for no gain. Manget’s 33-yard field goal gave the Yellow Jackets a 44-41 lead.
Clemson needed six plays to end the contest.
After Dantzler converted a third down with a 5-yard pass to McKelvey, the senior quarterback again faced third down. On 3rd-and-6, Dantzler put the game in his hands — or rather, his legs.
On a designed quarterback draw, Dantzler got a key block on a linebacker and ran virtually untouched on his way to the winning 11-yard touchdown. The score capped a 4-touchdown day for the Clemson senior, who finished with 418 total yards.
Zachery scored the game’s first touchdown, but throughout the day, Georgia Tech had the biggest lead. Trailing 7-6 after a quarter, the Yellow Jackets took a 19-7 lead behind a 16-yard touchdown pass from Godsey to Will Glover and a Burns touchdown run.
Clemson managed to cut the lead to five on Dantzler’s 38-yard touchdown run late in the first half. The Tigers regained the lead on Dantzler’s 55-yard touchdown pass to Matt Bailey early in the third quarter. Georgia Tech went back in front on a 35-yard touchdown pass from Godsey to Campbell, but Zachery’s 3-yard touchdown run allowed the Tigers to take a lead into the final 15 minutes.
Burns finished with 126 yards rushing and a team-high 133 from scrimmage, but that was not enough as the Yellow Jackets fell. Dantzler finished with 254 yards passing and 164 rushing. Campbell led all receivers with 83 yards in the loss.
As for the 2001 season, it wouldn’t be a particularly great one for either team. Both teams finished with five losses, but each won their bowl game. Clemson handled Louisiana Tech in the Humanitarian Bowl 49-24 while the Yellow Jackets topped Stanford in the Seattle Bowl 24-14 to finish No. 24 in the final AP Poll.
The overtime thriller would serve as the highest-scoring game for either team that season. It came on this day two decades ago.