Of the many things that happened in Tallahassee on a stormy Saturday night/Sunday morning, the one that lingers most transcended mere football and became instant lore. With seven-plus minutes left and Tech leading 42-38 in a game that would see 93 points scored and would last more than 4 1/2 hours, Josh Nesbitt stopped being a football player and became a folk hero.
Wrote Taz Anderson, the Atlanta entrepreneur who was a Georgia Tech captain under Bobby Dodd in 1960, in an e-mail: “I’ve been watching this game a long time, and I have never seen a play like Nesbitt’s.”
Said Paul Johnson, Tech’s coach: “We work on [doing what Nesbitt did] in practice. I’m kidding … That was all No. 9.”
What No. 9 did: Flipped a pitch to A-back Roddy Jones, who dropped it; saw Nigel Carr, a Florida State linebacker who weighs 230 pounds, pick it up; ran over to Carr and tore the ball from his grasp, regaining possession in a game where possession meant everything. (The moment can be viewed and reviewed in the YouTube clip below.)
Johnson: “I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a quarterback do that.”
Anderson: “That is a young man who was not going to lose.”
Said Brian Bohannon, who coaches Tech’s quarterbacks: “He’s a tough guy, and he wants to win … He’s got a lot of pride.”
In the time it took to snatch from a bigger man, Nesbitt made himself the symbol of an historic Tech victory — the Jackets had never won at Doak Campbell Stadium — and a team that seems as stubborn as it is skilled. He had little idea of what he was doing, and even now the immensity of that one play hasn’t fully sunk in.
“I wasn’t aware of [Tech fans' adoring response],” Nesbitt said Wednesday. “But I’m glad to know they liked it.”
About the sequence: “I was going to try to tackle the guy, and then I saw the ball. When your back is behind the wall, you’ll do anything.”
It should be noted that Nesbitt did more than save the game. He won the game, too. He rushed for 140 yards. He passed for 131 yards (on just eight attempts). He scored three touchdowns and threw a touchdown pass. Indeed, two snaps after he reclaimed possession from Carr, Nesbitt stormed 22 yards to the score that, for the first time in a long game, gave one side a double-digit lead.
“I’d always wanted to play on that field,” he said. “I remember [Florida State legend] Deion Sanders, and then Warrick Dunn and Peter Warrick.”
And then Nesbitt, on his first trip to Tallahassee as a starting quarterback, did something legendary himself. When he arrived back on campus in the early hours Sunday, he reports that he “slept good.” And this week fellow students keep telling him, “Man, that was a wild game.”
You wouldn’t call Nesbitt a classic quarterback — through three games, he’d completed only 15 of 40 passes — but you’d want him on your team. He has thrown the ball more precisely (22 completions in 33 attempts) the past three games, and that fits the Nesbitt profile: He gets better as he goes. Tech gained 116 yards in the fourth quarter against FSU; Nesbitt accounted for 105 of them.
Speaking of Nesbitt, Johnson told reporters this week: “He played like a warrior out there.” That description is deployed so often it has become trite. Except in this case. No other word fits the way Nesbitt performed in Tallahassee.
He was bold and indomitable, and now he’s a folk hero. Josh Nesbitt had himself a long good night.