Georgia Tech: 14
Notre Dame: 17
In their first game of the 1939 season, the Yellow Jackets travelled to South Bend, Indiana to face the Irish on the road for the first time since 1929. It was the Ramblin’ Wreck’s first game at Notre Dame Stadium. The Irish had beaten Purdue 3-0 the previous week, and were coming off of an 8-1 record in the 1938 season, when they had been a serious contender for the National Championship. Notre Dame had more than twice the players of the Yellow Jackets, fielding 84 to Tech’s 34. This played heavily into the game, as the Irish used their first, second, and third string teams in an attempt to wear down the Jackets.
Tech began with a promising start. After two short runs, they were able to gain 13 yards on a fake punt and 23 on a pass, advancing to the Irish 28 yard line. The drive came up short, however, as Tech turned the ball over on downs at the Irish 21.
The first score of the game occurred later in the first quarter. Tech fumbled and the Irish recovered on the Yellow Jacket 24 yard line. But the Ramblin’ Wreck defense held strong and forced the Fighting Irish to kick a 28 yard field goal for a 3-0 lead. The first quarter ended with very little additional action.
Early in the second quarter, after taking a Tech punt to their own 35 yard line, the Irish began mounting a drive. Two long runs of 10 and 12 yards advanced the team to the Yellow Jacket 43 yard line. But a stingy Tech defense was able to get stop and force the Irish to punt. It was then that Tech Robert Aderhold burst through the line to block Bob Saggau’s punt! The ball bounced backwards towards the Irish end zone, and Tech took over at the Notre Dame 13 yard line. After Tech’s R.L. Ison ran the ball to the 3 yard line, Howard Ector was able to burst into the Irish end zone, giving the Jackets a 7-3 lead after the made extra point.
The Tech lead would not last long. After kicking the ball out of bounds at the Irish 35 yard line, Notre Dame quickly advanced down the field. Highlights of the drive included an 18 yard pass from Saggau to Lou Zontini, and a 23 yard run by Joe Thesing. Saggau finished the drive with a 6 yard run for the Irish score, reclaiming the lead at 10-7.
Notre Dame would go on to score again in the first half. The Irish received a Tech punt at the Yellow Jacket 45 yard line. A 23 yard pass, and an 11 yard run advanced the ball to the 12 yard line, where three straight runs were enough to land the Irish in the end zone, extending the lead to 17-7. Joe Thesing was again responsible for the score. The first half would end with little else to tell.
After battling for field position on several drives during the third quarter, Tech nearly scored again. A 15 yard clipping penalty pinned the Irish on their own 1 yard line. After booting a punt 60 yards, Tech’s Johnny Bosch fielded the ball at the Yellow Jacket 40 yard line and returned the ball 21 yards to the Irish 39. Tech was able to drive to the 10 yard line before failing to convert on fourth down and giving the ball back to Notre Dame.
In the beginning of the fourth quarter, each team turned the ball over within four drives. Tech was intercepted near the Irish 44 yard line, and Notre Dame lost a fumble at the Tech 34. Tech was able to capitalize on the latter. The Yellow Jackets quickly advanced the ball to the Irish 27 yard line on two Bosch passes and a reverse to Gibson. A couple plays later, Gibson burst off a 14 yard run, driving to the 14 yard line. Tech scored when Bosch’s pass was bobbled by Ison, who then gained control as he fell into the end zone, bringing the Jackets within 3 at 14-17.
The Jackets needed their defense to get a stop, and they did! Notre Dame was held to -4 yard on three plays and was forced to punt. The punt went out of bounds at the Tech 42 yard line, giving the Jackets a final shot at their first victory in South Bend. The Irish defense, however, would remain strong. After driving the ball to the Irish 38 on an 11 yard pass and an 8 yard run, the Jackets would be stopped as three incomplete passes resulted in a turnover on downs. The Irish would go on to run out the clock, and seal the victory.
Notre Dame moved to #2 in the AP poll the following week, and would not lose until November 11th at Iowa. Their only other loss would come at the hands of the USC Trojans in the final contest of the season.
Troy, Jack. “Jack Troy’s Play-by-Play Story Of Georgia Tech-Irish Grid Thriller.” The Atlanta Constitution. 1939 Oct. 8