CHARLOTTESVILLE, NOV.3 -- Bobby Ross, who won many big games as head coach at Maryland, stopped to ponder the question. Was the 41-38 upset his No. 16 Georgia Tech team pulled off here over top-ranked Virginia the biggest win of his career?
"I think it was," said Ross, standing outside his team's jubilant locker room. He was covered with stickers and patches from the Citrus and Sugar bowls, suddenly among the many suitors courting the Yellow Jackets (7-0-1) for postseason play. Standing nearby were some of his players, mingling with the small gathering of fans who traveled more than 500 miles to watch what oddsmakers had forecast as a two-touchdown defeat.
"We're number one," became the common refrain. "Number one no more," was the favorite jeer Yellow Jackets players shouted at the Virginia fans, a parody of the Cavaliers' promotions involving quarterback Shawn Moore and wide receiver Herman Moore.
"I never thought that Virginia was number one because they had never been tested," said Georgia Tech all-conference safety Ken Swilling, who played for the first time since suffering a sprained ankle against Clemson three weeks ago. Virginia cornerback Tony Covington said frequently during the last two seasons that he felt Swilling -- who finished sixth in the voting for the 1989 Jim Thorpe award as the nation's top defensive back -- was overrated, giving the muscular 6-foot-3, 230-pound junior additional incentive for today's game.
Swilling practiced for the first time since the injury on Wednesday, and pronounced his ankle at 80 percent following today's game, which he spent the better part of trying in vain to guard 6-5 Herman Moore, who caught nine passes for 234 yards and a touchdown. "He's so tall that you can't defend him and I never realized he was that fast," Swilling said. "I played a bad game and I probably wouldn't have if I had practiced earlier in the week."
Virginia (7-1) entered the game rated first in the nation in both scoring and total offense, and with 38 points and 512 yards today did little to damage their staggering averages. But a goal-line stand by the Georgia Tech defense -- ranked ninth nationally -- held Virginia to only a game-tying field goal with 2:34 remaining in the contest.
"I don't know where we got that extra courage and strength," Swilling said. "It was like God helped us dig down and stop them. If they had gone for it on fourth down, I still think we could have stopped them."
Virginia Coach George Welsh has insisted all season that he doesn't have a dominating defense. But with the exception of surrendering 35 points to William and Mary, it had been downright imposing -- until this afternoon.
"It was one of those games where whoever had the ball last was going to win," said Georgia Tech quarterback Shawn Jones, who threw for 257 yards and rushed for 52 more.
"We just kept thinking we could win," said Ross, who won only five games in his first two seasons after coming to Georgia Tech in 1987 -- at one point losing 16 straight in the conference. "We felt like we could move the ball and we hung on and won. That's the bottom line."
The Yellow Jackets could capture the ACC championship with a win at Wake Forest in two weeks and could contend for a national championship -- the most unlikely of prospects as recently as last season. "We know we can play with anybody," Jones said.
"We haven't been getting much respect all year," safety Thomas Balkcom said. "Nobody believes that we're one of the best teams in the country."