By Craig Sanders
Arizona Daily Wildcat
For Georgia Tech, Arizona and Thursday nights do not mix.
For the second-straight season the Yellow Jackets were playing in a special made-for-television Thursday-night matchup against a Top 25 opponent. They were coming into the game with high hopes, a new offense and a young defense. And for the second straight season they seemed to own the game before they were suddenly stung by an improbable defeat.
The matchup was eerily reminiscent of last season's game when the Wildcats trailed late before Arizona tailback Kevin Schmidtke plunged in for the winning touchdown with only 29 seconds on the clock.
With another late lead this season, the tables again turned on the Yellow Jackets. Arizona scored two touchdowns late in the game Ÿ a 60-yard passing play from Dan White to Richard Dice with just over five minutes left in the game and a blocked punt that set up the game winner with only 2:21 remaining.
"The emotional swings, they were a big thing," Georgia Tech's coach George O'Leary said. "You just can't give up easy touchdowns against good teams."
This year's Tech team might have felt the sting a little more intensely than a season ago. Last year, four Wildcat turnovers and other assorted miscues helped the Yellow Jackets take the lead. This year, Georgia Tech was actually outplaying the Wildcats.
There were no smoke and mirrors or Ontiwaun Carter fumbles to blame. Their offensive line was knocking the Wildcats' Desert Swarm defense off the ball. Tailback C.J. Williams was hitting the holes and finding running room where no back had found it in the last three years. Their defensive line contained both Arizona backs and put tenacious pressure on Arizona quarterback Dan White. Yet somehow, in some inexplicable way, the Yellow Jackets lost the game.
"It's very disappointing," Williams said. "Both sides of the ball played very well. We just can't win with special teams breakdowns like that."
Williams became the first back to rush for over 100 yards on the Wildcat defense in nearly three seasons. He accomplished that goal on the first play of the second quarter when he broke for a 36-yard run, giving him 104 at that point. He finished with 154 yards on 30 carries. Williams was playing defensive back last season when the Yellow Jackets only managed 20 yards on 19 carries.
"I was coming in and I knew they were a hard-nose defense last year," Williams said. "We wore them down early in the game but they came back ready to play. They're a great football team."
The Tech players didn't seem devastated by their loss, merely disappointed.
"This had nothing to do with fate or a curse," Tech's quarterback Donnie Davis said. "It just came down to miscues on our part. We still felt we had plenty of opportunities to win the game in the last minutes. Our team just has to recover and learn from this."
Most of the Tech players felt that they had let themselves down.
"The game was ours," said cornerback Nathan Perryman, the cornerback who allowed the Dice touchdown. "Our team just didn't make the plays it needed to. I made a mistake and gambled, but that's my job. I have to forgive myself and get on with the rest of the season."
This year's Tech team will try to learn from the close loss and avoid a repeat of last year's 1-10 season. If the game against Arizona is an indication, they have plenty to build on.
"Our team played well on both sides of the ball," O'Leary said. "I feel bad for the kids, but we're not going to let this get us down. We've got to come back next week and just learn from our mistakes and improve."
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