By Eric Wein
Arizona Daily Wildcat
ATLANTA Ä This was to be the year Arizona wouldn't need a last-minute miracle.
This was to be the year Arizona would play flawlessly in all facets of its game.
This was to be the year Arizona would breeze through its season opener.
Because of freshman Kevin Schmidtke's six-yard scamper up the middle with 29 seconds remaining, that destiny remained intact and the No. 7 UA football team pulled out a 19-14 victory over Georgia Tech here at Bobby Dodd Stadium last night.
"That's what you've got to do," Coach Dick Tomey said. "It's much the same as the Illinois game last year. You're on the road, you're playing against a team that's really excited and they're back in it at the end and the crowd's on their feet. When you win in that environment, I think you've really helped your team. It builds toughness."
The Wildcats (1-0) took over at their own 40 with 5:46 left to play. They marched down the field and into the end zone behind six straight handoffs to Schmidtke.
"When we got the ball, we just knew we could score," left guard Pulu Poumele said. "We kept our spirits up even when things were going wrong."
At times, Arizona looked as though it could do few things right.
On the very first play from scrimmage, the Wildcats fumbled when Dan White's handoff slipped under running back Ontiwaun Carter's left arm.
The Yellow Jackets recovered and scored on their second play of the game when quarterback Tommy Luginbill lofted a pass to halfback Derrick Steagall in the corner of the end zone to give Georgia Tech a surprising 7-0 lead 45 seconds into the game.
Carter's misfortune continued on Arizona's next possession. After the Wildcats advanced into Yellow Jacket territory, Carter coughed up the ball once again when his right arm was hit from the front.
But Georgia Tech couldn't convert. Carter, who gained 151 yards on 30 carries, said his problems stemmed from the fact that he missed the majority of preseason contact drills while sitting out with a knee injury.
"In my mind, it's not a complete game," said Carter, who also caught four passes for 37 yards. "I've never been one to fumble, and those fumbles overshadowed what I did tonight."
But luckily for Arizona, Georgia Tech (0-1) had its share of problems as well. Luginbill connected to Steagall in the first quarter and the halfback fell down after he had slipped by the UA defense. The Yellow Jackets missed a field goal to complete that drive. Steagall would again fumble on what appeared to be a breakaway run and safety Tony Bouie recovered.
On a reverse play in the third quarter, Steagall found a wide-open Cedric Zachery for a pass to the Arizona 10-yard line. Again, Georgia Tech missed a field goal when defensive end Tedy Bruschi swatted the ball away.
"There was not one single play that you could pick out that cost us the game," Georgia Tech coach Bill Lewis said. "When we go back and look at the tape, we will see four or five or maybe more opportunities that we had."
The almost deafening roar from the crowd of 14,112 was quieted somewhat in the second quarter on account of defensive tackle Jim Hoffman's quarterback sack at the Georgia Tech 10-yard line, Arizona's first of the game. Richard Dice further helped Arizona's cause by returning the ensuing punt to the Georgia Tech 29.
The Wildcats kept fighting back throughout. After they fell behind 7-0, Steve McLaughlin kicked a 30-yard field goal off the artificial turf and Arizona had a 29-yard drive to go ahead 10-7 by halftime.
After apparently putting his troubles behind him, Carter had a costly fourth-quarter fumble. Georgia Tech utilized Arizona's fourth turnover of the game for another scoring drive, this one culminating in Luginbill's 22-yard touchdown strike to receiver Charlie Simmons, putting Georgia Tech ahead 14-13 with 10:56 remaining. The Yellow Jackets had awakened from their mid-game slumber.
At the same end of the field where Bruschi had blocked a kick earlier, Georgia Tech's Elliott Fortune slapped away McLaughlin's first fourth-quarter attempt at giving Arizona the lead once again. It appeared the Wildcats' hopes for victory were slim.
"There's no easy game in college football," Tomey said. "It certainly wasn't one tonight."
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