ATLANTA — Lance Austin ran toward the ball, rolling along at the Georgia Tech end of the field as the final seconds ticked off the clock. He hesitated, a bit confused as his coach screamed for him to leave it alone.
Paul Johnson was content to go to overtime against mighty Florida State.
Austin had other ideas.
The sophomore scooped up the ball at his own 22 and took off the other way. He didn’t stop running until he reached the end zone, his 78-yard return of a blocked field goal on the final play giving Georgia Tech a stunning 22-16 upset of the No. 9 Seminoles on Saturday night.
Call this one Kick Six, The Sequel.
“When I picked it up and started running up the field, I saw a lot of green,” Austin said. “So I was like, ‘OK, I can return it.’”
That he did.
All the way to the end zone.
“I go from yelling ‘get away from it’ to ‘run, run, run,’” quipped Johnson, the Georgia Tech coach.
It all started when Roberto Aguayo, perhaps the best kicker in the country, attempted a 56-yard field goal to win it for the Seminoles (6-1, 4-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) with 6 seconds remaining. But the kick had to be low to get some distance on it, and Patrick Gamble managed to get a hand on the ball.
While most of the Georgia Tech players celebrated, thinking they were going to overtime tied at 16, Austin went back to retrieve the ball as it was bounced inside the 25-yard line.
Johnson was thinking overtime, too, waving and screaming to let it roll dead.
Austin paused briefly, looking around, and then decided to scoop it up. He took off the other way in front of the Georgia Tech bench, avoiding Aguayo’s diving attempt, then cutting back on the final guy who had a shot at the tackle to win the game for Georgia Tech (3-5, 1-4).
After that, it was bedlam in Bobby Dodd Stadium.
On the Florida State sideline, coach Jimbo Fisher stoically removed his headset, clearly shocked at only the second loss in the last three seasons for the Seminoles.
“When there is a blocked kick, you’ve got to cover,” he said. “We talk about that all the time.”
The white-clad Georgia Tech fans poured onto the field, celebrating with the players after perhaps the most improbable win in school history. They were still milling about when a replay of the final play, complete with the call by the Yellow Jackets’ radio crew, was played on the video board.
They cheered wildly as Austin zigzagged down the field all over again on the big screen at the opposite end of the stadium.
In a finish reminiscent of Auburn running back a missed field goal to beat Alabama two seasons ago — the original Kick Six — Georgia Tech snapped a five-game losing streak, its longest since 1994, and dealt a devastating blow to Florida State’s title hopes. The Seminoles won the national championship in 2013 and reached the national semifinals a year ago.
Now, they’ll need some help to get that far again, though a victory over No. 6 Clemson in two weeks could boost them back into the running.
“We can’t let one loss become two,” Fisher said.
The Yellow Jackets also ended FSU’s record-tying streak of 28 straight victories against ACC opponents, a run that dated back to 2012 and matched the Seminoles’ streak of winning its first 28 conference games after joining the league in 1992.
Leading 16-13, Florida State had a chance to seal the victory in the fourth quarter as it drove deep into Georgia Tech territory. On third-and-goal from the 10, Everett Golson’s deflected pass led to the Seminoles’ first offensive turnover of the season — and first turnover of any kind since their first game.
Jamal Golden made the interception in the back of the end zone, an omen of what was to come for the Seminoles.
Justin Thomas, who had a 60-yard touchdown run for the Yellow Jackets after two early interceptions led to 10 points for Florida State, kept the game alive by converting on fourth-and-six from the Georgia Tech 41. The quarterback hit Brad Stewart on a 36-yard pass that set up Harrison Butker’s third field goal of the game, a 35-yarder that tied the game with 54 seconds left.
With two timeouts, Florida State still had time to get into field goal range for Aguayo, who had never missed a kick in the fourth quarter. But the Seminoles didn’t get quite close enough, forcing him to drive the ball a little lower than usual on what would have been the longest kick of his career.
Fisher was confident it would go through.
So was Aquayo.
“I thought I hit the ball well,” the kicker said. “I looked up and didn’t see it flying down the middle. Then I saw it on the ground. A lot of their guys, a lot of our guys thought it was dead. It was kind of confusing.”
Turns out, the Seminoles didn’t even get a shot at overtime.
Austin made sure of that.