In the second half Ross went to a more conservative attack, hoping to wear Clemson down by keeping the ball on the ground. Instead, the Tech offense fizzled miserably, time and again giving up the ball, either on downs or turnovers. Clemson controlled the ball for more than 23 minutes in the second half, running 58 plays, while Tech had possession for only 6:51 and 18 plays. Hatfield kept sending in fresh backs (five had at least 12 carries, led by Williams's 108 yards on 17 attempts), but the Tech defense held when it mattered, yielding only three more Gardocki field goals as the Tigers kept chipping away until the score was 14—12 early in the fourth quarter.
Then came the play that won it for Tech. Ross sent in Kevin Tisdel, a sophomore walk-on, to receive the kickoff. Tisdel had asked for the assignment earlier in the week, even though he had played only one down in his college career. "My legs were shaking so bad," he said after the game, "that I didn't know if I could move." He not only moved when he caught the ball in the end zone, he went left behind a wall of blockers, cut to mid-field, dodged a tackier at the Clemson 45 and went to the 13 before being hauled down from behind. His 87-yard return set up the T.J. Edwards five-yard touchdown run that gave Tech a 21-12 lead.
The Yellow Jacket defense then stopped Clemson with a glorious goal line stand, though it finally surrendered a touchdown after the offense coughed up the ball yet again. Clemson's Cameron scored on a three-yard keeper to make the score 21-19, and when the Yellow Jackets regained possession, they were foiled by a dropped third-down pass and nearly done in by an 11-yard punt that put the Tigers in position to win. With a minute left, Hatfield had the choice of going for a first down on fourth-and-four at the Tech 43 or calling on Gardocki to try a 60-yard field goal with the wind at his back.
He went with Gardocki, whose boot was about five yards short. "I wanted to drive it," Gardocki said, "but I got under it too much." When the kick failed, the weary Tech defenders staggered back to the bench, and the collective sigh of relief from the stands nearly registered on weather maps in Charlottesville.
"I'm hurting," said Tech linebacker Calvin Tiggle, whose team-high 24 tackles included a big one on fourth down during the goal line stand. "I've never been this tired after a game. My legs were cramping up on me, and my shoulder was hurting. I thought for sure they were going to make that last kick. I was on my knees praying."
Tech and Virginia may be children of a lesser god, but suddenly they're in a position that even Notre Dame would envy. And guess what? Basketball practice began last week, but nobody at Virginia or Tech seemed to care much. Let Duke and Carolina go crazy about hoops. At Virginia and Georgia Tech there are more important things to get excited about right now, such as playing for the national championship on New Year's Day.