CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. - Near the end, Shawn Moore just watched the ball and Virginia's national championship hopes bound away.
On the Cavaliers' sixth stab from inside the Georgia Tech 5 with less than three minutes left in a scorefest of nearly 1,000 combined yards Saturday, Moore lofted a pass right for tight end Herman Moore. Talk about a sure thing. For more than three hours, Herman Moore had humiliated the nation's second-best pass defense, reaching above and around defenders and getting open with bursts of speed and deception to catch nine passes for a career-best 234 yards.
But this time, the Georgia Tech defense won. On the one series when it mattered, linebacker Calvin Tiggle followed Moore step for step and batted the ball away, forcing Virginia to settle for a game-tying field goal.
The big defensive stop set the stage for Scott Sisson's 37-yard field goal with seven seconds left, giving the unbeaten Yellow Jackets a dramatic 41-38 victory over the No. 1-ranked Cavaliers, and throwing a monkey wrench into the national championship race.
"I just rolled underneath him," Tiggle said of the defensive play against Moore. "We'd been chasing him all day. It was like a track meet. But that was the play. That was when it counted, and we stood up to the challenge."
Earlier in the week, Herman Moore, no blowhard, had incurred the wrath of Coach George Welsh by elevating the biggest game in Virginia history to, well, the biggest game in Virginia history. After watching the ACC title and No. 1 ranking bounce away, Moore used words like "devastating" and "painful."
"This loss hurts more than I can say," he said.
"This is going to be hard for our players to accept for a few days," said Welsh, whose team lost for the first time in 13 games.
A record crowd of 49,700 elbowed into Scott Stadium for a game that almost didn't take place. During the wee hours Saturday morning, a security guard discovered the artificial turf ablaze. Before the fire department arrived, a large patch had been ruined. Groundskeepers patched the carpet with leftover turf, but rain or cooler temperatures could have kept the glue from cementing and the game would have been cancelled.
By the time Virginia jumped out to a 13-0 lead in the first half, Tech looked like just another victim. But the Jackets started moving the ball at will in the second quarter, narrowed the gap to 28-14 at the half, and after a third quarter of fireworks, Tech became the first team to lead Virginia in the fourth quarter when Sisson hit a 33-yard field goal for a 38-35 margin.
The linkage to Virginia's dashed national championship bid may hurt Shawn Moore's Heisman Trophy campaign, but it shouldn't. Displaying the same propensity for the big play that brought Virginia to 7-0 and atop the wire service rankings for the first time, Moore completed 18 of 28 passes, ran for three touchdowns and passed for another.
Georgia Tech quarterback Shawn Jones, saving his best for the biggest game, completed 17 of 29 for 257 yards and two TDs, scrambled often and well, and skillfully drove the Jackets into position for the game-winning field goal.
"Our Shawn is a quarterback, too," Georgia Tech Coach Bobby Ross said.
Welsh, refusing to second-guess his decision to settle for Jay McInernery's 23-yard field goal near the end, said: "There were two-and-a-half minutes left. We had three timeouts left. We felt like we had time to come back."
Copyright 1990 by Keith Dunnavant