ATLANTA — The scene was bizarre, eccentric and bordered somewhere along the lines of pure insanity and peaceful jubilation.
Yet, it was exactly what Paul Johnson had wanted to see.
Before the season began, the Georgia Tech head coach told an Atlanta columnist that he hoped to see a livelier, more energetic crowd at Bobby Dodd Stadium whenever the Yellow Jackets and their unique spread option offense took the field.
Saturday night, he got just what he wanted.
“Yeah, the crowd was great,” Johnson said Sunday afternoon. “You know, I kind of zone out sometimes and I don’t get the full effect. But somebody else told me it was unbelievable.
“I know the players felt like they had a 12th man out there.”
While Johnson may not have been fully conscious of his surrounding environment — he did, after all, have much larger things to worry about — it was hard for any other casual observer to miss the outpouring of support his team received in the moments immediately following the Yellow Jackets’ 28-23 win over then-No. 4 Virginia Tech.
Contributing to the carnival-like atmosphere that descended upon the chilly midtown Atlanta stadium was the sight of a seemingly endless sea of bodies that streamed out of the stands to engulf their football heroes on the field below.
There was also the girl holding a victory cigar while she rode upon the shoulders of a male student who carried her toward the north end zone goal posts.
And then, there were the goal posts themselves, dislodged after the students’ near half-hour struggle of jostling and bouncing atop them.
It was the greatest Georgia Tech moment Josh Nesbitt said he had been around.
“It’s the biggest thing that’s happened to me since I’ve been here,” the junior quarterback said.
After witnessing Nesbitt rush for a career-high three touchdowns, complete one 51-yard pass and lead the then-19th-ranked Yellow Jackets to their sixth victory of the season, the horde on the field did not want to leave.
So they patted Nesbitt and his teammates on their helmets and shoulder pads and whipped out cameras to snap pictures of the massive mosh pit. As flashing lights exploded around them, it was as if each of the several thousand celebrators wanted something tangible to prove they were there the night the Yellow Jackets knocked off the Hokies.
In addition to the win over the higher-ranked foe, the Yellow Jackets kept their ACC title hopes alive and jumped high into the BCS standings during the poll’s first weekend release.
Coming in at No. 12 in Sunday’s standings, the Yellow Jackets (6-1, 4-1) also garnered the No. 11 spot in the weekly AP Poll. It is the highest ranking Georgia Tech has had since the week of Sept. 29, 2001, when the Yellow Jackets were ranked ninth. The week before, they had beaten a Johnson-less Navy team 70-7. Johnson arrived at Navy the following year before moving to Georgia Tech last season.
“That’s great,” Johnson said flatly when told how high his team was ranked. “We still have work to do. We won’t be anywhere near (that ranking) if we don’t go out and play well. We need to worry about Virginia.”
This weekend, the Yellow Jackets travel to Charlottesville, Va., where they will play Virginia in an ACC Coastal Division showdown that could impact the race to the conference championship. A win and the Yellow Jackets could sit alone atop the division with two more ACC games left to play.
A victory would also help Georgia Tech exorcise some old demons.
The last time the Yellow Jackets won on the road against the Cavaliers was in October 1990, when Virginia was ranked No. 1.
Amid the festival that took place on Grant Field on Saturday night — the first night since 1962 the Yellow Jackets had beaten a top five program at home — team chaplain Derrick Moore prayed above the Yellow Jackets and their supporters and asked for humility.
“We thank you for victory,” Moore said. “And we thank you for Paul Johnson. … Allow us to stay humble and know that there is still work to be done.”
Defensive tackle Jason Peters has already taken Moore’s message to heart.
“I know there’s a long (series) history, but there are a lot of things like that with a lot of teams we’ve already played this year,” Peters said. “We just have to stay focused on our goals and not necessarily get caught up in all the hype going into it.”
Johnson will be in Macon tonight speaking at the Methodist Home for Children and Youth at 304 Pierce Ave. The program begins at 7 p.m. ... Georgia Tech’s win Saturday makes it bowl eligible for the 13th consecutive season. ... The Yellow Jackets are looking for their fifth straight win, which would be their longest winning streak since winning five in a row in 2006.