Work in Sports
Tech's Hester comes out on top after roller coaster ride
Posted: Saturday November 27, 1999 07:18 PM
By Stewart Mandel, CNN/SI
ATLANTA -- After Saturday's Georgia-Georgia Tech game, the sports cliche "emotional roller coaster" may have to be forever retired. The two teams flat out used it up, with Georgia overcoming a 17-point deficit only to see Tech tie things back up, followed by Georgia driving to the 1 in the closing seconds only to fumble, and ending with the Jackets' game-winning field goal -- which came only after Georgia blocked the first try.
And if the game was a roller coaster, consider Tech safety Marvious Hester a case study in surviving the loop the loop.
The clock was winding down in the third quarter and the Yellow Jackets had climbed to a seemingly commanding 41-24 lead. Furthermore, Felipe Calybrooks had just sacked Carter for an 11-yard loss on 3rd and 10, and now the Jackets were going to have a chance to score again.
But Hester fumbled Wynn Kopp's punt at Tech's 22 -- his second fumbled return of the day -- and by the time the ball stopped bouncing, Georgia had the ball back at Tech's 10-yard line. One play later, Carter dashed to the touchdown and the Dawgs were back within 10.
A sickened Hester, a redshirt freshman playing in his first Georgia brawl, wrestled with the possibility his miscue might ultimately cost his team the game. He said to no one in particular on the sideline, "God, how did I drop that ball?"
"I can handle whatever people might have said about me," said Hester. "But if we had the lost the game, I would have felt ... I can't even imagine. I would have felt like I let my seniors down."
To further bring down Hester's mood, Georgia would tack on 17 more points to go up 48-41, all the while torching Hester and the Tech secondary. And Hester prayed for another chance at redemption.
"[Coach George] O'Leary just told me I was a better player than what I was showing," he said. "He told me if the opportunity presented itself, I had to make a big play."
As has been the case for Tech all season long, that opportunity would come to pass, and come after the most improbable of circumstances. First Hamilton would have to lead Tech down the field for one more touchdown to tie the game in the closing minutes. And of course, after Georgia drove all the way back to the 1 in the final seconds, Jasper Sanks would have to fumble.
Such was the prelude to overtime, where Carter had already gained one first down when he set up for second and 10 at the 14. Scrambling right, Carter had his choice of targets, but he eyed big tight end Randy McMichael, who already had seven catches for 143 yards on the day, in the end zone. Carter's pass, like surprisingly many on his 29-of-55 day, sailed off course and into the hands of ... Hester.
His earlier plays may have cost Tech points, but this one meant Tech only needed to score points to win, which they did moments later on Luke Magnet's second field-goal try.
"That was amazing," said Dez White, another Tech return man, of Hester's pick. "I felt his pain. I was very happy for him when he came up with the big play."
Hester was at a loss afterward to describe his decidedly up-and-down day. He had to hearken back to a 26-25 loss his senior year at Atlanta's Douglass High School to remember a game so dramatic, and that included Tech's heartbreaker against Florida State and remarkable comeback against North Carolina.
It also meant he had beaten the hated Bulldogs on his first try, a feat of much personal satisfaction.
"I wasn't heavily recruited by Georgia, and being one of the better players in the city coming out of high school, Tech was the only one that gave me a chance," Hester said. "It wasn't just me personally. I didn't see them recruiting a lot of the top players coming out of the inner city. Beating them meant a lot."
His play saved a huge win for Tech and possible embarrassment for himself, but Hester may not be out of O'Leary's doghouse just yet going into the Gator Bowl.
"[Hester] came back with the interception, but he dropped two that led to 10 points, and he can't do that," the coach said afterward. "That doesn't help him as a young player."