West Virginia Overcomes 18-Point Deficit
by Mike Mitchell
West Virginia beat Georgia Tech 38-35 for its first Gator Bowl win in six tries. The Mountaineers over came deficits of 28-10 in the first half and 35-17 early in the third quarter.
The Mountaineers won their second straight bowl game after losing eleven of its previous twelve. Ironically, they beat Georgia in the Sugar Bowl by the same 38-35 score last year. But in that game, they stormed out to a 28-0 first-half lead and then held on for dear life.
Georgia Tech was playing without four-year starting quarterback Reggie Ball who was ruled academically ineligible. But backup Taylor Bennet, who had thrown just 29 passes all season, played magnificently as he threw for 326 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Bennett took advantage of his major weapon, too. He completed 9 passes to college football's top receiver, Calvin Johnson, 2 of which went for scores of 31 and 48 yards as the Yellow Jackets jumped out to a 28-10 lead in the second quarter.
Georgia Tech also benefited from Tashard Choice best rushing game of the year. The junior running back had his ninth 100-yard game of the season with 169 yards and 2 TD's on 27 carries.His second score with 13:48 to go in the game, but the Jackets back up by 18 at 35-17.
One of West Virginia's major offensive weapon, running back Steve Slaton, played sparingly due to injuries. He carried the ball three times and caught two passes but was largely ineffective. In his place, Owen Scmitt ran 13 times for 109 yards and two touchdowns.
But it was ultimately up to a banged-up Pat White to provide the spark the Mountaineers needed.
After Choice's last TD gave Georgia Tech the 18-point lead, White hit Tony Gonzalez for a 58-yard touchdown on the second play after the kick-off. The trick play had the offensive line freeze when the ball was snapped, momentarily catching the defense off-guard. Gonzalez sped past the secondary and hauled in the downfield
throw from White.
Georgia Tech went 3-and-out on its next series and White took advantage of the defensive stop, hooking up with Brandon Myles on a 14-yard touchdown pass to close to within four points at 35-31.
West Virginia took the lead a minute later when the ensuing kick-off was a line drive that struck Georgia Tech's Tony Clark in the leg and was recovered by the Mountaineers. Two plays later, White called his own number for a 15-yard touchdown run and West Virginia's first, and only, lead of the game.
Georgia Tech threatened to retake the lead, driving to the West Virginia 23-yard line, before Bennett threw his lone interception at the WVU 2-yard line. A 54-yard field goal attempt fell short with 1:14 left and West Virginia ran out the clock.
White went over the 100-yard mark passing and rushing for the fourth time this season. The sophomore sensation threw for 131 yards on a 9-of-15 day, and ran for 145 yards on 22 carries. He finished the season with 1,655 yards and 13 TD's passing, and added 1,219 yards and 18 TD's rushing.
Georgia Tech lost its second straight bowl game as the Big East runners-up beat the ACC runners-up. It was the Yellow Jackets' third straight loss, including the ACC title game to Wake Forest.
The Big East won a Gator Bowl for the first time since the 2000 season when Virginia Tech defeated Clemson in Michael Vick's last collegiate game.