ATLANTA -- Stephen Hill had just been brought into Georgia Tech’s locker room when it sounded like the ceiling was going to cave in.
“I heard everybody going crazy from the first play, and then on the next one, I just heard a big boom, boom, boom,” the Yellow Jackets sophomore said.
The Bobby Dodd Stadium faithful went from feeling hopeful to restless in a split second. Just as the home team was driving for a potentially heroic, late-game comeback, the crowd instead began looking on in instant disbelief as typically reliable pass-catcher Demaryius Thomas watched a ball squirt from his grasp and fall to the turf.
“People were just so mad,” Hill said, before pausing. “The (trainers) came in and said, ‘He dropped it.’ ”
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One of just a few drops Thomas, or any Yellow Jackets receiver for that matter, had during the season, the unexpected fourth-down miscue with seconds remaining sealed Georgia Tech’s fate in its rivalry game against Georgia last season. The 30-24 loss dropped the Yellow Jackets to 10-2 and made their win over the Bulldogs the year before seem like a minor blip on the series radar screen.
It was their eighth loss in nine meetings.
“It was just a big, bad feeling,” Hill said.
Saturday afternoon in Athens, Hill and the rest of this year’s version of the Yellow Jackets will have a shot at redemption and revenge as they meet the Bulldogs for the first time at Sanford Stadium since their 2008 victory there.
Hill, a former Georgia recruit who chose Georgia Tech at the 11th hour and who was being evaluated for an injury during the Yellow Jackets’ final series of last year’s game, isn’t the only person with the program still stung by last season’s loss.
“Any time you get beat, if you’re a competitor, it motivates you,” Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson said. “I’m sure they were motivated when they came in here last year. They sure played like it.”
Following their win in Atlanta, the Bulldogs celebrated for several minutes on Grant Field, ripping up chunks of the stadium’s turf. Some players even posed with the grass hanging from their teeth, effectively mocking the Yellow Jackets who stuck pieces of Sanford Stadium’s hedges in their mouths after Georgia Tech’s 45-42 win the year before.
Such emotions have fueled the series since Johnson’s arrival three years ago and likely will be on display in varying forms when the teams take the field for their 7:45 p.m., nationally-televised kickoff.
“The atmosphere is going to be great,” Georgia Tech junior A-back Roddy Jones said. “We can’t wait to get up there and play.”
Jones sprinted in the consciousness of most Yellow Jackets fans during the 2008 game, when the then-redshirt freshman rushed for 214 yards and a pair of touchdowns to solidify Georgia Tech’s 16-point, second-half comeback and eventual win.
Growing up in Gainesville, Fla., Yellow Jackets senior center Sean Bedford has long held a distinct dislike for the Bulldogs. Cheering for the Florida Gators for much of his childhood, he tapped into an allegiance with another team Georgia calls a rival.
“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t in the back of my mind,” Yellow Jackets senior center Sean Bedford said after Georgia Tech’s 30-20 win over Duke on Saturday. “We were focused on Duke (last) week, but it’s one of those things. (The rivalry) flashes in your head every now and then.”