CLEMSON, S.C. (AP)—Georgia Tech quarterback Reggie Ball knew the Yellow Jackets were going to win even though they were down 10 with less than two minutes to go.
He just didn’t know it would take a play that Georgia Tech fans will likely call “The Snap” to set up the winning 11-yard touchdown pass to freshman Calvin Johnson in a 28-24 victory over No. 20 Clemson 28-24 on Saturday night.
With the clock ticking below 30 seconds, the Tigers (1-1, 1-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) only had to get off a punt from their own 37 to all but seal the game. But Geoff Rigsby’s snap never got up in the air, skipping past punter Cole Chason, who just fell on it at the Tigers’ 11.
“Geoff hadn’t done that in a year-and-a-half and it just happened to happen tonight,” Clemson coach Tommy Bowden said.
The Yellow Jackets (2-0, 1-0) hustled their offense on the field, with coach Chan Gailey telling them to get the ball to 6-foot-4 Johnson.
“We couldn’t give up a chance like that,” Johnson said. “I knew if they got it to me, I could catch it.”
The freshman took off to the left sideline just over the goal line and leaped over Justin Miller for his second touchdown catch of the game with 11 seconds to go.
“Now the tables have turned, haven’t they?” Ball said.
Ball, his left eye bruised, could smile after this one. He got beat up worse last year, suffering through a miserable 19-of-42 performance in Georgia Tech’s 39-3 loss to the Tigers.
On Saturday, Ball completed 20 of 36 passes for 251 yards and four touchdowns. P.J. Daniels, the ACC’s leading rusher last year, ran for 103 yards on 24 carries after being held to just 34 yards against the Tigers in 2003.
And Johnson gave the Yellow Jackets another game-breaker, catching eight passes for 127 yards and three touchdowns.
“He has shown a lot of potential in practice, and he has made plays like that in practice,” Gailey said. “It was just a matter of time when he would make them in a game.”
But even after Johnson’s catch, the game wasn’t over. Airese Currie returned the kickoff to the Georgia Tech 31 with 3 seconds to go. But Charlie Whitehurst’s pass to Kelvin Grant fell incomplete as three Yellow Jackets swarmed the receiver in the end zone.
It was the end to a crazy fourth quarter. The teams scored five touchdowns in the last 8 1/2 minutes. Georgia Tech scored three times in the final 4:36.
Clemson appeared to seal the game on Kyle Browning’s 54-yard touchdown run straight up the middle untouched. It gave the Tigers a 24-14 lead with just over three minutes to go and was the second long touchdown run of the fourth quarter by a Tiger who hadn’t run the ball in the season opener.
On the sidelines, Ball rallied his offense.
“I told them not to quit,” the sophomore said. “I told them we were going to win. But I didn’t know how.”
First came a touchdown drive in less than 90 seconds ending with Johnson’s leaping catch in the right corner of the end zone. Then came a defensive stand as the Yellow Jackets stopped Clemson twice for no gain just a yard away from a game-winning first down.
Then came “The Snap.”
“You may watch a lot of football in your life, but you may never see anything like that,” Gailey said. “I hope you enjoyed it. I did.”
The crazy ended spoiled what was a solid game for Whitehurst, who was 20-of-43 for 275 yards. He said it hurt just as much as Clemson’s 45-17 loss to Wake Forest in 2003.
“We’ve had tough losses before,” the junior said. “Wake Forest was a tough one last year. But we didn’t give up and we won’t give up now.”
Grant and Currie each caught six passes for 80 yards.
Clemson appeared to have sealed the game twice in the fourth quarter with two long touchdown runs by seldom used tailbacks.
Just a few minutes before Browning’s touchdown run, Reggie Merriweather ran 62 yards for a score, bolting untouched through another big hole on third-and-1 to put Clemson ahead 17-7.
But Ball came back with a lightning-quick drive that ended with a 19-yard scoring pass to Levon Thomas with 4 1/2 minutes to go.
“I thought we were just going to stop them and win it then,” Ball said.
Instead it took a bad snap and a nice catch.
“That was crazy, wasn’t it?” Ball said. “You’ll never see another game like it again.”