Notre Dame 17, Georgia Tech 13
September 6, 1997 – Notre Dame Stadium
by Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Style points don’t count for much in college football.
Other than a likely drop in the next poll and losing a measure of naive enthusiasm that comes along with a maiden voyage, Notre Dame’s 17-13 narrow escape from Georgia Tech should serve as a positive when the big picture is considered.
At least it wasn’t a loss, which it easily could have been.
Two impressive fourth-quarter defensive stops and a running game that was revived from its death bed saved the Bob Davie Era from a nightmarish start and the expanded and remodeled Notre Dame Stadium from a disappointing dedication.
“Anytime you can win your first football game of the season, especially when you have a new coaching staff, that is a big, big win,” Davie said. “Looking back, it was a big, big, big win for our football team. It’s obvious we’ve got a strong foundation on this team and in our program. That’s how you win these kinds of games.”
The Irish won this game in spite of themselves. The defense was porous in the first half, allowing the Yellow Jackets to run at will despite having an inexperienced offensive line. Notre Dame quarterback Ron Powlus was intercepted twice deep in his own territory in the fourth quarter, but both Tech possessions ended in missed field goals — one from 43 yards and the other from 47.
“We didn’t make the plays in the red zone,” Tech coach George O’Leary said. “We had three chances in which we came away with nothing.”
While the Yellow Jackets were having trouble making plays when it counted, the Irish defensive coaches told their players to stop thinking and start making plays.
“We honed down our defense,” Irish defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said of the difference between the two halves. “Instead of calling all our different defenses, we just used two defenses and told them to go out there and play football.”
The simple strategy worked. Tech collected a negative-eight total yards without a first down in the crucial fourth quarter.
While the defense was finding a zone, the Notre Dame offense was experiencing a sense of urgency. Trailing 13-10 with 7:42 left in the game and the ball on their own 31, the Irish realized it could be their last possession.
“We felt a sense of urgency,” Notre Dame center Rick Kaczenski said. “We were taking so many possessions for granted. We didn’t want anything to slip away from us.”
After rushing for just 102 yards in the first three and a half quarters, the Irish chewed up 52 yards on the ground in their 69-yard game-winning touchdown drive. Tailback Autry Denson had 31 of those yards, including the final yard that accounted for his second TD of the game and the go-ahead score.
The drive wasn’t without dramatics. With the ball on the Tech 40, Denson coughed up the football. In a wild scramble, tackle-turned-tight end Tim Ridder fell on the ball to allow Notre Dame to retain possession.
“Tim saved the game for us, no doubt about it,” Denson said. “I was so relieved to see him get it.”
“It was all instinct,” Ridder said. “I saw the ball get loose and just went after it. I’m just thankful I happened to be there.”
Notre Dame got on the scoreboard first on its second possession of the game. Offensive coordinator Jim Colletto allowed Powlus to do some damage through the air early. A 22-yard pass to Malcolm Johnson and a short pass to Bobby Brown that was turned into a 16-yard gain set up Denson to score from three yards out.
Tech quarterback Joe Hamilton used his athletic ability to keep the Irish defense off balance. His ability to mix the option with runs by Charlie Rogers (97 yards on 21 carries) caused plenty of trouble. Hamilton tied the game with an 11-yard run early in the second quarter.
Dave Frakes put the Yellow Jackets on top 10-7 with a 33-yard field goal with 4:14 left in the half. As time ran out in the half, Jim Sanson made up for an earlier missed field goal after a high snap and bobbled hold by connecting from 28 yards to tie the game at intermission.
“The field goal at the end of the half was important,” Davie said. “It changed the momentum.”
Tech’s first possession of the second half journeyed down to the Irish 6-yard line when, on third-and-two, Hamilton was intercepted in the end zone by Benny Guilbeaux. Notre Dame’s ensuing march was equally as frustrating. A short pass from Powlus to Denson that turned into a 47-yard gain was crucial in getting the ball back to the Tech 4-yard line with a first down.
After four runs at the middle that netted just three yards, the Irish got new life when the Tech defense was offsides. The fifth try was just as fruitless when Clement Stokes was nailed for a loss. Davie said he had no regrets not trying a field goal.
“If I had it to do over again, I’d do the same thing,” Davie said. “We learned we have to scrimmage more goal line (situations in practice).”
Frakes kicked a 32-yard field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter to give Tech its 13-10 lead. It capped a 14-play, 84-yard drive that started on its own 1-yard line.
Georgia Tech 0 10 0 3 – 13Notre Dame 7 3 0 7 – 17
ND: Autry DENSON 3 run (Jim SANSON PAT), 7:56 left. Drive: 67 yards, 8 plays, 3:41 elapsed after Georgia Tech punt. Key play: Ron Powlus to Malcolm Johnson for 22 yards on 1st and 10 from the ND 43. Score: Notre Dame 7, Georgia Tech 0.
GT: Joe HAMILTON 11 run (Dave FRAKES PAT), 13:04 left. Drive: 66 yards, 12 plays, 4:40 elapsed after Notre Dame punt. Key play: On 3rd and 14 from the ND 28, Hamilton hits Harvey Middleton for 20 yards. Score: Notre Dame 7, Georgia Tech 7.
GT: FRAKES 33 FG, 4:14 left. Drive: 65 yards, 12 plays, 5:34 elapsed after Notre Dame punt. Key play: Hamilton to Derrick Steagall for 14 on 3rd and 8 from the GT 35. Score: Georgia Tech 10, Notre Dame 7.ND: SANSON 28 FG, 0:00 left. Drive: 56 yards, 13 plays, 4:14 elapsed after Georgia Tech kickoff. Key play: Powlus to Joey Getherall for 12 on 3rd and 12 from the ND 44. Score: Notre Dame 10, Georgia Tech 10.
GT: FRAKES 32 FG, 14:56 left. Drive: 84 yards, 14 plays, 6:40 elapsed after Notre Dame failed to convert on fourth down. Key play: Hamilton 11 run on 3rd and 1 from the ND 27. Score: Georgia Tech 13, Notre Dame 10.
ND: DENSON 1 run (SANSON PAT), 2:37 left. Drive: 70 yards, 11 plays, 5:05 elapsed after Georgia Tech missed field goal. Key play: Powlus to Denson for 11 on 3rd and 4 from the GT 34. Score: Notre Dame 17, Georgia Tech 13.
Attendance – 80,225 (sellout)
GT NDFirst Downs 17 22Rushing 10 10Passing 7 11Penalty 0 1Rushing Attempts 44 42Yards Rushing 201 174Yards Lost Rushing 24 20Net Yards Rushing 177 154Net Yards Passing 118 217Passes Attempted 21 29Passes Completed 10 18Had Intercepted 2 2Total Offensive Plays 65 71Total Net Yards 295 371Average Gain Per Play 4.5 5.2Fumbles: Number-Lost 0-0 1-0Penalties: Number-Yards 5-30 7-44Number of Punts-Yards 3-144 3-120Average Per Punt 48.0 40.0Punt Returns: Number-Yards 2-13 2-9Kickoff Returns: Number-Yards 2-45 4-69Interceptions: Number-Yards 2-4 2-1Fumble Returns: Number-Yards 0-0 0-0Possession Time: 29:05 30:55Third Down Conversions 7-16 5-11Fourth Down Conversions 0-0 0-1Sacks by: Number-Yards 0-0 4-24
RUSHING ATT GAIN LOST NET TD LGCharlie Rogers 21 97 0 97 0 17Joe Hamilton 15 69 24 45 1 14Charles Wiley 8 35 0 35 0 7
PASSING ATT COMP INT YDS TD LGJoe Hamilton 21 10 2 118 0 26
RECEIVING RECPT YARDS TD LGCharlie Rogers 4 39 0 26Harvey Middleton 3 49 0 20Derrick Steagall 1 14 0 14Chris Myers 1 9 0 9Matt Gubba 1 7 0 7
PUNTING NUM YARDS AVG LGRod Williams 3 144 48.0 51
RETURNS PR KO INTSCharlie Rogers – 2-45 -Harvey Middleton 2-13 – -Jason Bostic – – 1-0Ron Rogers – – 1-4
RUSHING ATT GAIN LOST NET TD LGAutry Denson 24 85 14 71 2 19Joey Goodspeed 12 57 0 57 0 11Ron Powlus 5 32 6 26 0 22Ken Barry 1 0 0 0 0 0
PASSING ATT COMP INT YDS TD LGRon Powlus 29 18 2 217 0 47
RECEIVING RECPT YARDS TD LGBobby Brown 7 64 0 16Joey Getherall 5 47 0 12Malcolm Johnson 3 29 0 22Autry Denson 2 58 0 47Dan O’Leary 1 19 0 19
PUNTING NUM YARDS AVG LGHunter Smith 3 120 40.0 64
RETURNS PR KO INTSAutry Denson – 1-16 -Benny Guilbeaux – – 1-0Allen Rossum 2-9 1-25 1-1Tony Driver – 2-28 –