A Life-Changing Victory In Athens
Roddy Jones recalls the day that he and the Yellow Jackets erased a 16-point deficit for a memorable win against Georgia
Nov. 22, 2012
By Roddy Jones
Roddy Jones will remain a Georgia Tech football legend for decades to come and not just because he rushed for 214 yards and two touchdowns - including one memorable tackle-breaking TD run - in a classic 45-42 win between the hedges in Athens in 2008, although that performance is certainly a part of his legacy.
Roddy was the epitome of what Georgia Tech stands for. He was a little undersized, but owned a tremendous work ethic and played with great passion. He made good grades at a place where academics stretches you. He graduated early. Roddy signed every autograph with a smile. He embraced Georgia Tech and the fans embraced him two-fold.
We are thankful that Roddy remains close to the Institute and the athletic department. He's on the search committee to select Georgia Tech's next athletic director. He works 20 hours per week in the Tech sports information and A-T Fund offices. And we appreciate Roddy, for the first time, putting pen to paper to recall one of Tech's greatest wins in one of the nation's greatest rivalries.
People often ask me about November 29th, 2008, and by often I mean every time I meet a new Tech alum or supporter. I have had literally thousands of conversations about those 3 ½ hours between the hedges, so you would think that I am used to it.
You would think that I would have my script down of what to say and can just spout off a few sentences about the game and how much it meant to me. The truth is, it catches me off guard every time. Not that the topic is brought up -- that part I am used to -- it's the details that people can remember about a single moment in that game that amazes me. The ability for people to recall exactly where they were -- from the top row at Sanford Stadium to a quiet room in Afghanistan -- that leaves me humbled every time by the emotional attachment that Tech lovers have to a seven- second fragment of my life and what it meant to this rivalry.
What I remember about that day is a totally different story. Games go so quickly, there are certainly moments that I remember vividly and others where the line between my memory and that of replays and legend is significantly blurred. I remember walking into that stadium that day, knowing that we were taking on the #11 team in the country; a team that came into the year as a national championship favorite and had a myriad of names known around the country on both sides of the ball, and many that are playing in the NFL today.
When we arrived and walked down a steep driveway under Sanford Stadium to get to the visitor's locker room, I took my spot in the locker between Calvin Booker and Jonathan Dwyer as I had done on 11 previous game days and tried to forget the hype that surrounded the game. There was a nervous energy in the locker room which was to be expected with a very young team, most of whom were playing in the rivalry for the first time.
I don't remember a lot about the pregame warm-ups other than speaking to some of the guys on the opposing team that I knew (Asher Allen, Rennie Curran, Israel Troupe, Jon Knox, and a few others), but I do remember when UGA was done with their warm-up, they stood at midfield and waited for us to wrap up to talk some pregame rivalry trash, which drew a cheer from those fans that had arrived for the noon start. That's when I just embraced the fact that this was not a normal game, this one was going to be a little different.
There were few highlights of the first half worth remembering. Brad Jefferson's goal line stuffing of Knowshon Moreno trying to jump over the pile, Joshua Nesbitt's completed pass to Demaryius Thomas on our first offensive play (our only completion of the day), Morgan Burnett's interception return for a touchdown and Luke Cox's touchdown leap into the endzone were about the only things worth mentioning. Four Matthew Stafford touchdown passes had us down 28-12 at halftime and feeling like this task might be a little too much for a young team that had little to no experience in games of this magnitude. I recall getting into the locker room and wondering how we were supposed to climb back on the road in a game we hadn't won in seven years.
The locker room speak from the coaches was filled with adjustments (none very big or drastically changing the game plan) and coach speak about a game being 60 minutes, not 30. But right before we went out for the second half, Coach Johnson gathered the team together and said: "If you don't believe we can win this game, stay here. Everyone who goes back out on that field better believe we can win and play like it."
There are no magic words in a locker room speech, and that declaration by Coach was not met by an uproar from the team like it would have been portrayed in Hollywood, but it planted a seed in our minds. A seed that would quickly begin to grow starting with the first play of the second half.
Then came the biggest sequence of plays in the game. After a kick out of bounds, Dwyer took a pitch from Joshua, made one guy miss, ran over another, and out ran the rest 60 yards for a score. On the subsequent 2-point conversion, we took the same play in to bring us within eight points. Our sideline started to realize, with 15:00 left in the 3rd quarter we were down by 16, now with 12 seconds later left we're down by only eight, we still have a shot.
The defense came up with a big 3-and-out and the offense put together a 10-play drive capped by an eight-yard TD run by me (with a great block by Luke Cox) and we were within two.
When we got the play call for the two-point conversion, a QB draw, there was no doubt in the huddle that Nesbitt was going to find the endzone somehow, that's just the kind of QB he was, and sure enough he did. The feeling of tying that game (along with the epic fist pump by Coach Johnson that I still remember seeing on the field and can be seen on the YouTube replays) still gets my heart pumping to this day.
We then kicked off, forced a fumble (recovered by Marcus Wright I believe), handed the ball to Dwyer on a dive. He did his Dwyer-like things, leaving a Georgia defender on his butt and ending up standing in the endzone, putting us ahead. With a little over seven minutes left in the third quarter we were up 35-28.
(Georgia Coach) Mark Richt then gathered the entire UGA team around him, and we fed off of it. If anyone had any doubts coming out of the locker room that we could win, in half a quarter all doubts had been erased. Everyone now believed.
The rest of the ride was not smooth by any means. Georgia responded like any team with the amount of talent would and the game was very much back and forth from then on, but I remember always having the feeling that no matter who had the ball when a play needed to be made, they were going to make it. Scott Blair's field goal in the third quarter put us up by 10 (another big moment) going into the fourth quarter.
As an offensive player, going 3-and-out is never fun. But going 3-and-out when you're up by 10 in the fourth quarter of a rivalry game creates one of the most nerve-racking situations an offensive player can ever have. Add the fact that the opposing team drives down and scores to pull within three and you have a situation where an offense HAS to respond. We needed a nice long drive to shorten the game and a touchdown to all but seal it. That idea hit a bump in the road when on the first play of the drive Nesbitt had the wind knocked out of him, bringing in backup Jaybo Shaw.
We all had confidence in Jaybo, he had played a lot over the course of the season, but you never want to see your starter leave the game at a crucial junction in the fourth quarter. But, as he had done all year, Jaybo did exactly what we needed him to do. After nearly being decapitated on the first play, he led us to our first 1st down of the drive, played one more play then turned the reigns back over to Nesbitt. After a handoff to Dwyer, we found ourselves in a 3rd and 7 with a little over seven minutes left in the game. All I could think while waiting for the play call in the huddle was, "we HAVE to get this." There was too much time left on the clock to give the ball back to Stafford and that offense, and our D hadn't had much rest. This was the biggest third down of the day.
When the play came in, it was our basic triple option to the short side of the field. We had run it a million times. We broke the huddle and I crouched in my position next to the left tackle, waiting for Nesbitt to begin his cadence to go in motion. As the pitch guy on the option, you can see the whole play develop and most of the time anticipate what's going to happen. So, as the play began and I took off, I saw the defensive end take Dwyer away causing Nesbitt to pull the ball. I saw that the pitch man was standing his ground, which would normally cause Nesbitt to run at his inside shoulder, forcing him to make a decision, at this point there was about a 50-50 chance Josh was going to run it. What we didn't account for was the inside linebacker coming free on the play effectively ending all chances of Nesbitt getting the first, so with two options taken, it was all down to me.
Josh figured I was wide enough that I had a chance to get around the pitch key, so he pitched me the ball. Now, here is where the line of my memory, replay, and stories becomes significantly blurred, but here is what I remember: I remember thinking to run as hard as I could to get the first down. I remember the feeling of the first defender grabbing me and the feeling the release when he fell off. I remember thinking that I had probably stepped on the line right as Rashad Jones hit me. And then all I remember is it being so quiet, all I could hear was the sound of my shoulder pads going up and down, turning around to look for them spotting me out of bounds and seeing only Bay Bay (Demaryius Thomas) there to celebrate with me.
At that point I had no idea what that run would mean to the Tech community, but I knew it gave us a pretty good shot at winning the game. And seeing the Governor's trophy that day in the locker room was something I will never, ever forget.
It wasn't until a couple later that I realized why that moment and that game was so special to me. It's because of a prediction that Joshua Nesbitt made in July of that year as he and I and some others were running routes together. I ran a corner route down close to our endzone about a million times, and between every one before I lined up and ran it again he would say, "This is the connection that's going to beat Georgia, me to you, were going to beat Georgia."
It wasn't a corner route that scored the last touchdown but he was right about the connection, and I'll never forget it. It's because of guys like James Liipfert, Andrew Smith and Daryl Richard, seniors that played a big part in the game and got to celebrate with a piece of the Sanford hedge between their teeth. Bret White, who celebrated a birthday on that same day and will never forget the win in Athens as a birthday present.
The fans that greeted us at Bobby Dodd when we got back that evening. The stories from CEO's to season ticket holders to current freshmen at Tech (who were freshmen in high school then) about where they were and how much it meant to them. That's what I remember the most. And that is what taught me that that was more than just a game. It has changed my life and affected the lives of so many others and that connection is why it was special to me. That's why this game means a little bit more to me than every other.