Recounting the final play of Georgia Tech's 22-16 win over Florida State Saturday.
The design of a field-goal block attempt is not merely a furious rush to drive back the line and raise your hands. Special-teams coordinator Ray Rychleski said that “you’re always trying to find a weakness in their protection.” Rychleski said that the Jackets used the same block play on that they used at the end of the first half, when Aguayo made a 38-yarder as time expired.
Defensive tackles Adam Gotsis and Patrick Gamble lined up in the gaps off the right tackle's shoulders. At the snap, Gotsis charged the C gap between the tackle and second tackle, while Gamble slipped through the B gap between the guard and tackle.
“Pat and Adam work very well together,” Rychleski said.
Gamble in particular made effective penetration. With a somewhat low kick by Aguayo and Gamble’s reach (he is 6-foot-5 and long of arm), he didn’t even need to leap that high to bat down Aguayo’s attempt.
Block by Gamble
In the Bobby Dodd Stadium press box, Roderick Rook-Chungong was first given credit for the block before it was rightfully changed to Gamble.
Said Rychleski, “Actually, at first I thought it was Adam, and as Coach (Paul) Johnson said in the meeting (Monday), he knew it was Pat because Pat tweeted it out about a million times after the game.”
Austin makes a play
After the block, there was celebration and hesitation. Tech players on the field were hugging and raising their arms, as the ball trickled past the line of scrimmage and came to rest at the Tech 22-yard line. Lance Austin, who had clear sight of the ball as he was stationed behind the line, approached it and turned his head back before scooping it up.
Though safety Corey Griffin (on the field behind Austin) and coach Paul Johnson were among those waving their arms to signal to him to leave the ball alone, it was the right call to pick it up. In this situation, a blocked kick that goes past the line of scrimmage, the ball is considered something like a punt – it is a live ball, but the kicking team can’t regain possession. However, if the ball is not picked up by the defense, it returns to the line of scrimmage and the ball changes hands.
If a defensive player picks the ball up, he is risking losing yardage if he can’t make it back to the original line of scrimmage. Tech players are instructed to leave the ball alone if there is time remaining, but if it’s the last play of either half, they should pick it up, as there is no risk in picking it up since it would not be another play in the half.
In a frenzied moment, Austin recalled the instruction.
Austin: “Kind of when I figured out it was blocked, I kind of zoned out so I didn’t really hear anybody. But we go over that scenario all the time in practice, so it clicked in my head that time expired, so I kind of picked it up and went to the field.”
Said Rychleski, "For him, knowing what to do was really good. Again, smart players make really good plays."
As mentioned, Austin also remembered the other piece of coaching in this situation – head to the sideline, which would give him the best chance of scoring. Austin ran to the Tech bench on the west sideline, the far side of the field, a split-second decision which was either smart play or serendipity for at least three reasons.
One, most of Tech’s players were on that side of the field relative to Austin. Facing the goal post, the kick was taken on the left hashmark and then bounced farther left, meaning most of the other players on the field were to the right of Austin.
“They were celebrating at first, but they were drifting to the bench,” Rychleski said. “Once they realized what was happening, it ended up to be a wall.”
The most notable example was cornerback Chris Milton, who was lined up on the left edge (facing the kick) and temporarily lost himself in the moment.
Away from trouble
Another reason is that Austin’s return route turned him away from probably the FSU player with the best chance to bring him down. Of the nine Seminoles players on the line, six were offensive linemen weighing a minimum 294 pounds, long snapper Stephen Gabbard and, on the wings, defensive Giorgio Newberry (295) and tight end Ryan Izzo (241 pounds).
Of all 11 players, Izzo (circled below) arguably had the best strength/speed combination to bring down Austin. And, in fact, he appeared to be one of five FSU players who ran downfield to cover the play. However, he was furthest to the left (facing the goal post) and closest to the ball when Austin picked it up and sped away from Izzo, now making him the FSU player farthest away from Austin as he took off towards the sideline.
Lastly, running to the wide side of the field gave Austin more space to outrun his pursuit. By the time he turned upfield at the Tech 30-yard line, still not even to the original line of scrimmage, nine of the 11 Seminoles were effectively out of the play. Offensive linemen weren't going to catch Austin, who as a senior at Lamar County High finished third in the 100-meter dash at the Class AA state championship and was part of the state championship 4x100 relay (along with twin brother Lawrence Austin and A-back Qua Searcy) that set a state record.
Setting the fence
Tyler Marcordes, who got excellent push off the left edge, impeded two pursuers.
With Austin able to outrun most of the Seminoles, many of whom were hemmed anyway by the Tech vanguard, there were basically two players to beat, Aguayo and holder Carson Beatty.
Nearing the goal line
Snapped out of his celebration as Austin ran downfield, Milton (circled) got a body on Beatty at the FSU 30-yard line. It may have proved inconsequential, as Beatty dove at the wrong player, trying to trip up safety Jamal Golden, who was trailing Austin by a step.
Rychleski: “Chris Milton was celebrating, celebrating, celebrating and then he went, ‘Oh, my God’ and he actually got a key block on the holder, and what that did is it made Lance go one-on-one with the kicker and, again, showing you how smart Lance is, he knew the kicker was a very good athlete and could tackle him. But because he had enough space between him, he was able to cut back and then score. It was kind of neat watching it from the sideline.”
Gamble (rectangle) gets a star for his effort on the play. He blocked it, was on the ground and still managed to catch up with the play and nearly got a block on Beatty, about 40 yards downfield.
“He’s running like a son of a gun to try to get in the wall,” Rychleski said. “Everyone on the team helped in that thing.”
It is perhaps not a surprise that Gamble was a bit slow to get up after the play. Gamble (No. 91) is in right edge of the clip below, standing up, raising his arms and then collapsing.
That left Aguayo, whom Austin deftly sidestepped with a cut to the field. While a cornerback at Tech, Austin played quarterback at Lamar County and rushed for 1,097 yards as a senior in leading the Trojans to the Class AA state finals. He had done this before.
Twelve seconds later
Reuniting with Austin at the goal line – his twin brother Lawrence. They fit the mold of many Tech players – not necessarily recruited by elite teams (size was an issue, as both are under 5-foot-11) – but came to Tech with strong academics and a desire to prove themselves.
“Lance Austin and Lawrence Austin, in my opinion, are what college football is all about,” Rychleski said. “Guys that are maybe not as tall or strong or whatever, but are smart, tough, gritty, just make plays. At the end, when Lance is crossing the goal line, Lawrence has got his arms around him, and for twin brothers, it’s karma, it’s God, it’s amazing. As a coach, that got a little chill down my spine.”
Two players, possibly Searcy and wide receiver Micheal Summers, celebrating a cathartic moment of a team decimated by injuries by holding their crutches aloft.
Tech great Joe Hamilton soaking in the moment. Athletic director Mike Bobinski’s arm s on the edge of the screen on the left.
7 other facts about the game and play
1. It is believed to be the first touchdown in Tech's modern history (1950 forward) scored on a blocked field goal.
2. The 56-yard kick was the same distance as Pitt kicker Chris Blewitt’s game-winning field goal against Tech, also to the south end zone, a week prior.
3. The score was almost the reverse of Tech’s loss to FSU in the 2012 ACC championship game – 21-15.
4. Tech’s last sellout prior to Saturday was in 2011, also a night-game win over a top-10 ACC opponent on homecoming and a whiteout game with the Jackets coming off a multiple-game losing streak – a 31-17 win over No. 6 Clemson after losses to Virginia and Miami.
5. According to ESPN, it was the fourth-biggest play of the season in terms of win probability added. Prior to the play, Tech’s chance of winning was calculated at 26 percent, jumping to 100 percent after it.
6. The game earned the highest overnight rating for a game broadcast on ESPN2 this season, 1.4.
7. FSU had attempted 246 consecutive field goals without a block. The last team to block an FSU field-goal try? Maryland in 2006. Coaching special teams for Ralph Friedgen?
Rychleski. Maryland, playing before a “blackout” crowd at Byrd Stadium, won 27-24.
The last word
Gamble: “The only thing that was going through my mind was, Block the kick. I knew we still had a chance. I knew they were going to get the game on the field goal or we were going to block it. Actually, when I got down in my stance, this is the crazy thing. I saw myself, I envisioned myself blocking that kick. Me and Adam looked at each other and said, ‘Man, let’s get some push on this guy’ and just got our hands up. Luckily, it just hit my hand.”
Austin: "It's a blessing. I'm just glad I got to be a part of it."