By John Antonik for MSNsportsNET.com
January 1, 2007
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – West Virginia came back from 18 points down in the third quarter to defeat Georgia Tech 38-35 in the 2007 Toyota Gator Bowl at Alltel Stadium in Jacksonville, Fla.
"We were a little banged up -- a little wounded -- but we didn't panic," said West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez. "We had some guys give some absolutely courageous performances -- some of the best I've ever seen."
Trailing 35-17 after Georgia Tech used an onside kick that led to a Tashard Choice 5-yard touchdown, Patrick White led the Mountaineers to 21 straight points in a span of seven minutes in the third quarter to take over the game.
“We were down early but we played Mountaineer football for four quarters and didn’t give up,” said White, who finished the game rushing 22 times for 145 yards and a touchdown and completing 9 of 15 passes for 131 yards and two scores.
“It means a lot it’s our first Gator Bowl,” said White of West Virginia’s five-game winless streak in Gator Bowls. “It’s great to see the great crowd turn out for us. We love them and they love us.”
In the first half, it looked like the partisan West Virginia crowd was going to leave the stadium early and head back up I-95 to Morgantown.
All-America running back Steve Slaton, hampered with a thigh bruise, pulled himself out of the game in the second quarter after running just three times for 11 yards and catching two passes for 20 yards.
"With Steve that burst is what makes the difference for him and he just didn't have it," said Rodriguez. "He tried like crazy to go and there was nothing he could do."
West Virginia (11-2) needed only four plays to score first, getting a 52-yard run from Owen Schmitt and a 27-yard run from Patrick White to take the football to the Tech one. Two plays later, Schmitt walked in from the one to make it 7-0, West Virginia.
Schmitt also finished the first half scoring by going in from 11 yards with 1:06 remaining. McAfee added a 25-yard field goal for West Virginia. In between, Taylor Bennett fired two TD passes of 31 and 48 yards to Calvin Johnson and a 27-yard pass to James Johnson, and Tashard Choice got in from the three to help the Yellow Jackets to a 28-17 lead at the break.
Georgia Tech used some razzle-dazzle at the start of the second half by recovering an onside kick, setting up a 5-yard Choice run to make it 35-17.
"It was a matter of them executing very well and we didn't do the proper technique," Rodriguez said. "I felt OK down 11 because we were getting the ball but that was obviously a blow. Our offense felt we could move the ball if we had enough possessions."
The Mountaineers scored 21 points in a span of seven minutes in the third quarter to re-take the lead. White fired a strike to Gonzales down the far sideline for a 57-yard score and then after stopping Tech, White hooked up with Brandon Myles for a 14-yard score. That score pulled West Virginia to within four, 35-31.
West Virginia got a big break when Pat McAfee’s ensuing kick struck the leg of Georgia Tech blocker Tony Clark and the football was recovered by John Holmes at the Yellow Jacket 35. A personal foul on Georgia Tech gave WVU the football at the 20.
"It was designed to go 30 yards right off his shin," Rodriguez joked. "We were just lucky."
Two plays later White called his own number, weaving his way for a 15-yard touchdown.
Tech took over with 10:54 in fourth quarter and turned field position in their favor by moving the ball to WVU 23. On third and 16 Bennett tried a pass into the end zone that was picked off by Quinton Andrews at the four.
Georgia Tech forced the Mountaineers to punt and took over at the WVU 36 after Andrew Smith returned McAfee’s 46-yard punt 15 yards. Georgia Tech appeared to convert a third down play when Bennett found Choice out of the backfield, but Georgia Tech was whistled for a critical illegal block in the back that moved the ball back to the WVU 37. An incomplete Bennett pass out in the flat on third down forced a 54-yard Travis Bell field goal try to tie the game landed short of the cross bar.
WVU took over at its own 27 and White had first-down-marker-moving runs of 13, 11 and 9 yards that forced Georgia Tech to burn all three of its timeouts and run out the remaining 5:02 off the clock.
"I know for our fans it's such a great bowl in a great city and they do such a wonderful job with the Gator Bowl and it is nice for our fans to enjoy the weekend and the game as well," Rodriguez said.
The West Virginia defense pitched a shutout over the final 28 minutes of the game after Georgia Tech scored on six of its first eight possessions and had nearly 500 yards of offense.
Bennett was 19 of 29 for 326 yards and three touchdowns for Georgia Tech. Calvin Johnson had a career-high 186 yards on nine catches for two scores and Choice became just the second runner this year to gain more than 100 yards against West Virginia’s defense, getting 169 on 27 carries.
Schmitt stepped in for Slaton and finished the game running 13 times for a career-high 109 yards. The Mountaineers ran for 311 yards against tech’s No. 11-rated run defense.
Georgia Tech finishes the season 9-5 after losing its final three games of the year.
WV – Schmitt 1 run (McAfee kick)
RUSHING: GT - Choice 27-169, Evans 2-10, Bennett 3-minus 19, Total 32-160; WV - White 22-145, Schmitt 13-109, Collington 6-26, Reynaud 1-20, Slaton 3-11, Total 45-311
PASSING: GT - Bennett 19-29-1-326-3; WV - White 9-15-0-131-2
RECIEVING: GT - C. Johnson 9-186, Choice 4-28, J. Johnson 2-68, Grant 2-14, Cooper 1-21, Matthews 1-9, Total 19-326; WV - Myles 6-54, Slaton 2-20, Gonzales 1-57, Total 9-131
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