Georgia Tech climbed its highest mountain today, scaled the heights of the nation's loftiest ranked football team, clad in the green of Notre Dame. The plagued Yellow Jackets reached up from their lowest depths in 46 years to the dizzying elation that comes with tying the hallowed Irish, who came here unbesmirched in seven games and roaring toward a collision with mighty Alabama next week. The score was 3-3.
As far as the gold-plated, loyal old liners among the 41,226 who shook and rattled Grant Field were concerned, the lead to this story should read: "Georgia Tech beat Notre Dame Saturday afternoon on Grant Field, 3-3." For indeed it was the Irish who had to come up with the tying points, and then with only 4:44 left in the fourth quarter, when junior Harry Oliver lined a 47-yard field goal.
Georgie Tech had run the ball down to the Notre Dame 22 in the middle of the second quarter, at which point senior Johnny Smith kicked the 39 yards of his life for the field goal that established a lead that almost survived the duration.
Georgia Tech was 1-7 coming into this game, its worst season since 1934, when it beat only Clemson, then lost nine in a row. The Engineers were accorded no chance.
If there were any sobering aftereffects of the feat, it would have been the startling realization that by so doing to the Irish the Jackets have by their own hand elevated their bitterest enemy to The rank of No. 1, assuming the voting writers and coaches ascend the Georgia Bulldogs from No. 2 to No. 1, as would seem to be logical.
This was not a game as uneventful as 3-3 may sound. There was much ado about getting 1-7 and 7-0 to come out to 3-3. In Georgia Tech's case, it was chiefly defense, or, as in the words of exhilarated Coach Bill Curry, the finest defensive performance he had ever been associated with. The Irish came to town averaging 286 yards per game on the ground. Tech held them to 138 and only 252 overall.
Here the roll call of honor should project the names of Steve Mooney and Duane Wood, sophomore linebackers: Ted Thurson, Ken Taylor and Mark Sheffield, among the defensive backs, and Robert Jaracz and Lance Skelton, on the front.
Tech spent the afternoon walking a tightrope. The offense was without any clout, though it did control the first half. After the field goal, there was only one legitimate opportunity to score, that following relief halfback Phil Carter's fumble on Notre Dame's 11-yard line, recovered by Jaracz. This was almost immediately converted into an interception by the Irish. When Stacey Toran picked up Ted Peeples' pass.
Notre Dame's nearest approach to Tech's goal line was the nine, at which point Oliver attempted his first field goal, just before the half.It was a screeching hook that never rose above the crossbar, which it struck while the benumbed Irish stood and watched in disbelief.
Incredibly, Georgia Tech got by at quarterback with a little glue, some baling wire and a hank of hair, using four quarterbacks in all. The second, the rankest of freshmen, was a walk-on from Augusta named Ken Whisenhunt, who had reported as a wide receiver and now is playing his fourth position.
As Tech drove from its 25 into field goal position, it was Whisenhunt's 23 yard pass to Jeff Keisler, yet another freshman, that made it possible. But even Whisenhunt wasn't around for long. He had to take his leave in the third quarter, and it remained for the veteran Peeples, who has lived in and out of favor here, to preserve what he could.
Only by the grace of the Irish's carelessness did the Jackets survive. Notre Dame fumbled away the ball three times in the fourth quarter, Carter on Tech's 31, his fumble at the 11 and Jim Stone's fumble on Tech's 39. By such phenomena are such upsets fabricated. The Irish had come into this game unscored upon in seven quarters, had not been denied a touchdown since the opening game of the '78 season, and their Stone had a streak of four 100 yard games going. That also came to an end. He gained only 85.
Let it not be said that the Jackets were willing to go quietly. Shocking to some, no doubt, Notre Dame resorted to the punt with 27 seconds left and the ball on its 41 after Mooney again had thrown quarterback Blair Kiel, a freshman, for a 17-yard loss.
Only 18 seconds remained, but Curry, even though in the perilous position of his own 20, refused to be content. Recklessly, he sent his forces after what shred of hope there was of victory, and on the last play of the game Peeples hurled a bomb in the direction of Matt Rank at midfield, where it was broken up. And celebration began on the west side of the field.