Georgia Tech’s Return Unfair to Stanford : Aloha Bowl: Clay makes the big play as Yellow Jackets come from behind in last minute to defeat Cardinal, 18-17.

From Associated Press

Georgia Tech put in a new punt return play for its Aloha Bowl game against Stanford.

It didn’t work very well the first time. On the second occasion, however, it went as planned.

Willie Clay broke loose for 63 yards to the Stanford 31, setting up a drive that led to Shawn Jones’ one-yard touchdown run with 14 seconds left. When Jimy Lincoln skirted right end for the two-point conversion, Georgia Tech had an 18-17 victory over No. 17 Stanford.

Clay, a senior cornerback, said the idea of calling for a fair catch at his six-yard line didn’t enter his mind.

“Fair catch my last punt return at Georgia Tech? No way,” Clay said. “I was catching that ball. I didn’t even know where I was on the field. I just caught the ball and ran straight up the sideline.”


Clay said the sideline return was put in especially for this game. “We’ve returned punts up the middle all year,” he said.

Even with Clay’s return and Jones’ touchdown run, Tech trailed, 17-16, with the conversion to come.

"(The two-point conversion play) was an option and the defender could either take the quarterback or the pitch. He took the quarterback and Shawn pitched the ball out,” Lincoln said. “There were two guys outside, and one was supposed to be picked up by the wide receiver. But somehow he didn’t, so I had to cut back real quick.”

Stanford Coach Dennis Green gave Clay the credit for making the big play.

“It was a good punt to the left corner, but we didn’t make any tackles. It was our worst coverage of the year,” Green said. “It was a great punt return.”

Georgia Tech Coach Bobby Ross said that return hadn’t been used since the first game of the season.

“The last time we used it was against Penn State,” Ross said. “We got a little buildup on that side and ran down the sideline.”

Green said his team “didn’t have that ‘sic-'em’ attitude that we had all year.”

The Yellow Jackets (8-5) needed seven plays to get into the end zone after Clay’s punt return. Jones got the touchdown when he took the snap from center, took a step back, and then bolted back up the middle from a yard out.

Georgia Tech blew an earlier scoring chance when Rodney Wilkerson fumbled on the one-yard line and Stanford linebacker Tom Williams recovered as time expired in the third quarter. Georgia Tech had taken over at the Stanford 18 when punter Paul Stonehouse fumbled a low snap and Mike Williams recovered.

Stanford (8-4) tied it, 10-10, with a 12-play, 49-yard drive capped by a 38-yard field goal by Aaron Mills with 5:39 to go before halftime.

The Cardinal took a 17-10 lead on Tommy Vardell’s second touchdown, a two-yard run with 2:23 left in the half. The drive started when Coy Gibbs recovered a fumble by Tech’s David Hendrix at the Yellow Jacket 25. The key play was a 29-yard pass from Steve Stenstrom to Jon Pinckney on third and 15 from the 30.

The Cardinal took the opening kickoff and drove 48 yards in six plays, scoring on Vardell’s six-yard run 2:58 into the game after a 15-yard pass from Stenstrom to J.J. Lasley.

Georgia Tech needed only 3 1/2 minutes to tie it, going 60 yards in 10 plays. Jones hit Michael Smith with a two-yard pass on third and goal with 8:33 to play in the quarter.

The Yellow Jackets went ahead, 10-7, on Scott Sisson’s 24-yard field goal as time expired in the quarter. Georgia Tech had to settle for a field goal after getting a first down at the Stanford five.

Vardell ran for 104 yards in 21 carries and Stenstrom completed 16 of 32 passes for 170 yards. Jones led Georgia Tech with 48 yards in 10 carries and completed 14 of 29 passes for 61 yards.