JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (CNN/SI) -- Georgia Tech saw the Gator Bowl as its
reward for an amazing but somewhat understated season. Notre Dame seemed
to back into the New Year's Day bowl after a pathetic performance in its
regular-season finale against USC. That tide of emotion seemed to carry
over into Jacksonville as the Yellow Jackets stung the Irish 35-28 in an
Jacksonville native and Georgia Tech wideout Dez White caught two long
touchdown passes and helped overshadow the return of Notre Dame's
Jarious Jackson. White and quarterback Joe Hamilton outdueled Jackson
and Autry Denson to lead Tech (10-2) to the 10-win mark for the first
time since 1990 and just the second time in history.
White had a 44-yard touchdown catch to stifle Notre Dame's momentum in
the third quarter and a 55-yarder in the fourth for the winning score (video).
All in all, it was quite a homecoming. "All week long, I felt real
comfortable," White said. "Then, coming in here today, it just felt like
a home game. I was fired up, ready to play in front of my friends and
Trying to snap a three-game bowl losing streak, Notre Dame (9-3) broke
out its green jerseys for the first time since the 1995 Fiesta Bowl. But
those uniforms couldn't defend White nor Hamilton, and the Fighting
Irish came up short of pulling out another last-second victory. Trailing
35-28, the Irish got the ball twice in the final three minutes. Neither
series produced a yard, and Nate Stimson - who finished with 2 1/2
sacks, ended the final drive by forcing a fumble recovered by defensive
end Jesse Tarplin. "This is great," Stimson said. "It's the last game of
my career, the game's on the line late and I'm able to sack the
quarterback and force a fumble. You couldn't ask for a better ending."
The victory reversed a long trend in this series for Georgia Tech and
might be a good indicator of just how far the Yellow Jackets have come
in two years. They opened last season as 17-13 losers to Notre Dame and
closed this one with only their fifth victory over the Irish in 32
meetings and their first since Pepper Rodgers' team won 23-14 in 1976.
"Anytime you get to 10 wins, I think that's outstanding," said Tech
coach George O'Leary. "It catapults you to next season."
Wearing a knee brace because of an injury he sustained in November,
Jackson finished 13-for-24 for 150 yards and led the Irish on three
touchdown drives in the second half. Denson, Notre Dame's career leading
rusher, had 130 yards and three touchdowns. But it wasn't enough for an
offense that struggled in the first half and a defense that gave up 436
yards and five long scoring drives. "Really, we didn't play very well in
the first half," said Notre Dame coach Bob Davie. "But it was a credit
to our players. In the second half, they came out and competed extremely
But Hamilton and White were better, connecting on their first score -
the 44-yarder - after the Irish had cut a 21-7 deficit to one point. The
second came on a fly pattern for a 35-28 lead with 7:55 left. It
highlighted a 91-yard drive that came right after Jackson had driven the
Irish 88 yards to tie the score at 28.
White had 129 yards receiving on four catches. Hamilton threw for 237
yards and three scores, ran for 19 yards and caught his first career
pass, a 5-yard touchdown from running back Joe Burns to open the scoring
in the first quarter.
Trailing 21-7 at halftime, Jackson led the Irish on a 10-play, 80-yard
touchdown drive capped by Denson's 1-yard touchdown run. On the ensuing
kickoff, Tony Driver stole the ball from Virgil Johnson, and Jackson led
the Irish to another quick touchdown. But Kofi Smith blocked Jim
Sanson's extra point attempt, keeping the Yellow Jackets in front 21-20.
The teams traded touchdowns, and after Denson's third score, Jackson hit
Bobby Brown for a 2-point conversion to tie the score. But the Irish,
who had pulled out fourth quarter wins four times this year, departed
Jacksonville with yet another postseason disappointment. It was hardly
what Notre Dame expected, after a 9-1 start brought with it hopes of a
berth in the Bowl Championship Series. The seniors will graduate without
experiencing a 10-win season or a bowl victory.
"It's big, especially since going into this season, we had two chances
to get 10 [wins] and we didn't do it either time," said offensive
lineman Mike Rosenthal, a senior. "But you can't dwell on that. The game
is over. I can't ever again put on a Notre Dame jersey, or anything like
that, so I have to go on and live my life."
GT- Hamilton 5 pass from Burns (Chambers kick)
ND- Denson 9 run (Sanson kick)
GT- Rogers 3 run (Chambers kick)
GT- Sheridan 9 pass from Hamilton (Chambers kick)
ND- Denson 1 run (Sanson kick)
ND- Jackson 2 run (kick failed)
GT- White 44 pass from Hamilton (Chambers kick)
ND- Denson 1 run (Brown reception for two-point conversion)
GT- White 55 pass from Hamilton (Chambers kick)
GT- C Rogers 13-82, Burns 12-55, P Rogers 10-28, Hamilton 10- 19, Wilder
ND- Denson 26-130, Spencer 3-17, Jackson 12-12
GT- Hamilton 13-20-237
ND- Jackson 13-24-150
GT- White 4-129, C Rogers 4-52, Matvay 1-28
ND- Johnson 5-43, Brown 2-42, Nelson 2-20, Holloway 2-11, J Johnson 1-27