Faced with an opportunity to kneel the ball and run out the clock in what would have been a victory for No. 17 Miami, a decision by coach Mario Cristobal to run the ball on third-and-10 from the Georgia Tech 30-yard line wound up costing the Hurricanes the win. Georgia Tech ultimately prevailed 23-20 Saturday evening thanks to an improbable last-second touchdown pass — that the Yellow Jackets shouldn’t even have been able to try.
With 10 seconds remaining, Yellow Jackets quarterback Haynes King took a snap from the shotgun at Miami’s 44-yard line. His initial reads weren’t open, so he scrambled to his right towards his right. At the same time, wide receiver Christian Leary streaked toward the end zone catching the ball and charging into the end zone. Instead of risking a blocked extra point, the Yellow Jackets kneeled the ball on the extra-point attempt. Miami got the ball back with 2 seconds remaining, but Georgia Tech’s defense held.
Perhaps more improbable than the touchdown is how Georgia Tech got in position to win the game. Miami had the ball and a 20-17 lead with less than a minute on the clock. Georgia Tech didn’t have any timeouts left. However, Cristobal — rather than kneel the ball in victory formation — decided to call an offensive play. Running back Don Chaney Jr. fumbled the ball and Georgia Tech recovered, a play that held up after official review.
“When the drive started, it was going to be at 1:57 and we could burn about 1:27 off and then it was recalibrated,” said Cristobal after the game. “We should have taken a timeout there at the end. We thought he could get the first down and we talked about two hands on the ball, but that isn’t good enough. That’s it, we fumbled the ball and they went 75 yards in two plays. There is no excuse.
“We were moving the pile and we had a pretty good drive going. I am not going to make an excuse for it and say we should have done this or that. Sometimes we can get carried away. But I should have just stepped in and said, ‘Hey, take a knee.'”
In a wild turn of events, practically the exact same thing happened to Cristobal when he was the coach at Oregon towards the end of a 2018 overtime loss to Stanford. In that game, Cristobal’s Oregon team held a 31-28 lead over Stanford in the final minutes. While Stanford had a timeout that would’ve kept Oregon from being able to run the clock out entirely, a couple of kneel downs would’ve led to Oregon likely punting with 10 seconds left in the game, leaving Stanford with very little time to get into field goal position. Instead, Oregon handed off to C.J. Verdell on 2nd-and-2, and Verdell fumbled. Stanford recovered, kicked a field goal to force overtime, and won the game 38-31. The decision not to kneel then was questioned, but was certainly more defensible than what happened against Georgia Tech, as the Hurricanes could’ve ended the game by kneeling.