As a result, Hill only suited up 48 players for what is most likely the final Silicon Valley Classic. Fortunately, one of them was Rodney Davis.
If there has ever been a game won the way Pat Hill likes to win, this one was it. Hill loves to play hard hitting, straight ahead football. He loves to control the clock and control time of possession. So, from the beginning, Hill went with Rodney Davis: Davis left, Davis right, Davis up the middle. And it was Davis up the middle that would win it in the end.
The first quarter was something of a split decision. Fresno State took advantage of an early turnover with an Asen Asparuhov 22-yard Field Goal to take an early 3-0 lead. But a quick strike 35 Yard TD Pass from A.J. Suggs to Kerry Watkins late in the quarter gave Georgia Tech a 7-3 lead at the end of the quarter.
Both teams failed to capitalize on a number of opportunities in the second quarter, as the offenses sputtered. Both quarterbacks were erratic, Tech's A. J. Suggs even more so than Fresno's Paul Pinegar. In fact, Suggs would complete only two passes on the day. But by then end of the quarter, The Rambling Wreck had a 7-6 lead, and possession of the ball with less than a minute left in the half. But rather than having Suggs kneel on the ball and run out the half, Tech coach Chan Gailey inexplicably had Suggs pass the ball, and the results would change the complexion of the game. Dee Meza, who had been burned for Watkins TD pass and was looking vulnerable at every turn, made a strong move on Suggs attempt at a fly pattern and intercepted it at the 48 yard line, and returned it all the way. So unexpectedly, Fresno State had the lead, 13-7, and the momentum as well.
But as the second half opened, Gailey made a change at quarterback. Suggs (2-7, 40 yds, 1 TD, 2 int.) was benched in favor of freshman backup quarterback Damarius Bilbo, a strong-armed quarterback who is a better runner than a passer at this point in his career. It was a move that would cause Bulldog defensive coordinator Dan Brown to make major adjustments on the fly. But Brown had practiced for Bilbo just in case, and the Bulldogs would focus on containing him on the scramble.
The Bulldogs managed to grind Georgia Tech's 2nd half opening drive to a halt, and took possession at their own twenty. But a holding penalty on the Bulldog's first play from scrimmage doomed the Bulldog's first possession of the second half, and Jason Simpson's short punt put the Yellowjackets in great field position. And in short order, Bilbo pushed it over from the one and Tech had the lead again, 14-13.
But Fresno State answered quickly behind Rodney Davis and Paul Pinegar, and a sensational, 68-yard circus catch and run by Deandre Gilbert. Rodney Davis pushed the ball over the middle from three yards out and the Dogs were back in front 20-14.
Georgia Tech took the lead for the last time at the end of the third quarter when a wide open Jonathan Smith caught a 42 Yard TD Pass from Damarius Bilbo. But by then, Bilbo had already shown both sides of his game: a great arm, a great runner, and a very inconsistent passer. He had already thrown several very poor passes, and was well on his way to throwing four interceptions.
But he also had the lead.
It would take eleven minutes and sixteen seconds for Fresno to weather a storm of dangerous Georgia Tech drives, while on offense the Bulldogs ran the ball well enough to get first downs, but could not get the ball into scoring position. But the Bulldogs were warring down the Yellowjackets just like in Pat Hill's dreams, and would eventually pile up an 86-58 advantages in offensive plays.
But when Fresno State took possession at their own 21-yard line following a Tech punt, the Bulldogs drove 13 plays, for 63 yards and took the lead for good when Asen Asparuhov made a 33-yard field goal after Jason Simpson made a sensational grab of an errant snap.
Then came the pivotal drive of the game, and Gailey's second questionable strategic decision. Down only 23-21, Georgia Tech only gained four yards on two incomplete passes and a rush. But on the punt, Fresno State was flagged for illegal participation and that made it fourth and one from the Tech 29-yard line. Gailey decided to go for it, and called for a pass rather than have Bilbo run. The ball fell incomplete.
On the next play, Davis ran up the middle for 29 yards, and the win was all but assured.
So Pat Hill now has his first bowl win, and Fresno State looks forward to their next game at Tennessee next fall. When asked when preparation for that game would start, Dan Brown said emphatically, "Tomorrow!"