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January 1, 2007
White rallies West Virginia to Gator victory
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Pat White was bruised and determined with the Gator Bowl hanging in the balance.
The quarterback played through ankle, hand and neck injuries to lead West Virginia back from an 18-point deficit in the second half for a 38-35 win over Georgia Tech on Monday.
"He kind of willed us to victory," Mountaineers coach Rich Rodriguez said.
White was 9-of-15 for 131 yards and two touchdowns and rushed 22 times for 145 yards and a score. He handled the bulk of the carries with tailback Steve Slaton, the country's third-leading rusher at 144 yards a game, limited with a badly bruised left thigh. Slaton's status was uncertain before kickoff, and the sophomore managed just 11 yards on three carries - all in the first half. Owen Schmitt also ran 13 times for 109 yards and two TDs.
"I was hurting a lot, but I had to block it out. I had to play ball," White said. "It makes me want to play harder - when I'm injured I get a little angry."
The teams set a Gator Bowl record for scoring, breaking the previous mark set in Tennessee's 45-23 win over Virginia Tech in 1994, and records for total yardage (928), most plays (121) and most first downs (40).
Georgia Tech (9-5) tried a 54-yard field goal on fourth-and-9 with 5 minutes left that could have tied the score, but Travis Bell's kick fell well short. West Virginia then ran out the clock.
It was Georgia Tech's third loss in a row by three points, including the regular season closer at Georgia and the Atlantic Coast Conference championship against Wake Forest.
"That's been our story, this season with all thee losses at the end," Yellow Jackets linebacker KaMichael Hall said. "You've got to learn how to finish."
The Mountaineers (11-2) also couldn't stop Tashard Choice, who ran 27 times for 169 yards and two touchdowns. Johnson finished with 186 yards receiving and two TDs.
Bennett, starting for the second time in his career, was 19-of-29 for 326 yards. He was playing in place of Reggie Ball, a four-year starter ruled academically ineligible a week-and-a-half ago.
It was West Virginia's third Gator Bowl appearance in the past four years, and fifth overall, but the Mountaineers' first win.
Tech opened the second half by recovering an onside kick at its own 46-yard line. Choice had a 17-yard run and Johnson jumped between two defenders for a 32-yard pass before Choice ran it in from 5 yards out to put the Yellow Jackets up 35-17.
White then caught Georgia Tech off-guard in the third quarter for a 57-yard touchdown pass.
Following an apparent offsides by the Yellow Jackets, West Virginia snapped it but the offensive line didn't move. The play wasn't dead, and White rolled out and found Tito Gonzales racing down the field for the score. The Mountaineers declined the defensive penalty.
"It was a freeze play to get the defense offsides," White said, adding that it was the first time all year it had worked that well.
That play brought the overwhelming West Virginia crowd back into the game, and the Mountaineers kept the momentum with scoring drives on their next two possessions. The second came after West Virginia retrieved its own kickoff off Tony Clark's leg. Two plays later White scampered between defenders for a 15-yard touchdown that put West Virginia up for good, 38-35.
"He's an incredible athlete," Hall said. "The kid is tough. There were a couple times on the field you could hear him scream out or you see him limping, but he played the whole game. He ran around like there wasn't anything wrong with him and that's all heart."
Bennett looked like a veteran running Tech's offense in the first half. The Yellow Jackets drove for four first-half touchdowns in six possessions, and Bennett threw for three of them. He found Johnson wide open on the left sideline for a 31-yard TD on their second possession, and hooked up with him again on a 48-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter.
Johnson found an opening, but by the time Bennett delivered he was covered. It didn't matter: the 6-foot-5 wideout wrestled the ball away from 6-foot safety Quinton Andrews to put Tech up 21-7.
"There were a lot of little things that happened, and that's the difference between getting the ball down the field and scoring touchdowns in the first half and not doing it in the second half," Georgia Tech coach Chan Gailey said. "We had our chances in the fourth quarter."