ATLANTA — As his team stared at a final-minute third-and-7 with the ball 35 yards from the end zone, Wake Forest head coach Jim Grobe was hoping to see anything other than what transpired.
An incomplete pass, a positive-yardage scramble, either of those options would have sufficed to make him a happy man.
Why would he have wanted to see those things? Because, with a wise head coach standing across from him, he knew that any worse field position for his team meant the game would be over.
As fate would have it, he did not get those wishes on that play, as his quarterback, Riley Skinner, was pressed by an intense Georgia Tech rush and lost five yards after being pulled down by a desperate, one-armed sack.
Grobe was going to have to punt and prepare for overtime.
“I’ll be honest with you,” Grobe later told reporters, “I didn’t want to be in overtime with these guys. Basically, overtime is red zone (time), and that’s what Wishbone teams do. They play great in the red zone.”
With those words ringing true, Georgia Tech and its spread option offense — featured by a quarterback who sits under center instead of back in a shotgun formation — eased into the end zone in overtime Saturday night to cap a 30-27 overtime win over the Demon Deacons that kept the Yellow Jackets’ ACC title hopes in plain view.
The score came one play after Yellow Jackets head coach Paul Johnson made one of the most clutch coaching decisions in recent memory at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
As Wake Forest led 27-24 on Georgia Tech’s opening overtime possession, the Yellow Jackets drove down to the Demon Deacons 5 to bring up fourth-and-short.
After taking a timeout to see how the defense planned to set up against his subsequent offensive — not game-tying field goal — attack, Johnson asked his quarterback, Josh Nesbitt, to pick up the key first down. If Nesbitt were unsuccessful like the Yellow Jackets had been on four previous fourth-down conversions, Georgia Tech would have lost and could have seen their run at the conference championship get slightly more difficult.
“Before (Johnson) said it, I was coming, running off the field (after the timeout) saying I could get it,” Nesbitt said. “He asked me was I sure, and I was like, ‘Yeah, I know I can get it.’ So he said, ‘We’re running it.’ ”
After Nesbitt dove ahead for the 2-yard gain, he sprinted in for the game-winning 3-yard score one play later.
“That’s pretty gutsy,” Duke head coach David Cutcliffe said of the play call on his Sunday teleconference, “Obviously, he’s pretty confident in the offensive front and their ability to run the ball. That’s pretty amazing. It worked. It could only go one way or the other, and it went the right way for them.”
The Blue Devils host the Yellow Jackets at noon Saturday in a game that could help Georgia Tech clinch the Coastal Division title and a trip to the Dec. 5 ACC championship game in Tampa, Fla.
While Cutcliffe praised Johnson’s decision — one that he believed most coaches would not make — the Georgia Tech head coach continued to deflect such admirations Sunday.
“I never thought anything much more about it; to me, it was the way to go,” Johnson said. “You tell the (players) to play to win, you’ve got to play to win.
“To me, that was an easy decision. We had to get half a yard. We get half a yard, we’ve got a chance to win the game.”
The thought to kick a field goal never crossed his mind because it still left a 50 percent shot that his team could win the game. The kick could have been missed, or even had it been made, the Demon Deacons still would have had an opportunity to score again, and possibly win the game.
“I thought my chances of getting half a yard were better than 50-50,” Johnson said.
In the weekly BCS standings released Sunday, Georgia Tech’s win, coupled with other key national losses, propelled the Yellow Jackets to No. 7. Last week, they came in at No. 10. Along with that ranking in the BCS, they also settled in at seventh in the AP and USA Today polls, marking their highest national ranking since the week of Nov. 1, 1999. ... Johnson said Sunday that offensive tackle Austin Barrick likely is lost for the season after suffering an ankle injury sometime the previous week. The starter was on crutches all of Saturday’s game. No other players received drastic injuries this past week, Johnson said. ... After Navy’s 23-21 upset of a ranked Notre Dame team, Johnson said he text-messaged current Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo to congratulate him on the win. Niumatalolo was an assistant under Johnson when the Midshipmen last beat Notre Dame in 2007.