Dez White left Jacksonville two years ago a high school phenom. He returned Friday to become a Gator Bowl star.
White, a Georgia Tech sophomore, caught two touchdowns from Joe Hamilton _ including the winner _ en route to a 35-28 victory over Notre Dame in front of 70,791 at Alltel Stadium.
White and Hamilton, who tied the Tech bowl game record with three touchdown passes, shared most valuable player honors.
"It means a lot," said White, who kicked field goals and starred at safety and wideout at the Bolles School. "It felt great to be able to come here and play in front of so many fans.
"When I played in high school I never in my dreams imagined I'd come back here and get this," he said, referring to the MVP trophy at his feet.
White and Hamilton delivered the game-breaker in a tight game aching for a big play.
With less than 12 minutes left and the score tied at 28, Hamilton systematically marched Tech down the field. Phillip Rogers rushed for 3 yards. Russell Matvay dropped a pass. Charlie Rogers caught an 8-yarder. Phillip Rogers rushed for 4. Hamilton pitched it to Rogers for 2 yards, then Rogers caught another 8-yarder. Ed Wilder rushed for 6. Charlie Rogers went 5 on an option pitch.
Then Hamilton found White a step ahead of the secondary for a 55-yard touchdown. It was the same play Hamilton ran in the third quarter, when he connected with White on a 44-yard touchdown.
"It was a well-thrown ball," Tech coach George O'Leary said of the game-winner.
Both teams had the finishing touch.
Tech opened the scoring in the first quarter when Hamilton flicked the ball to tailback Joe Burns, who threw it to Hamilton in the end zone for a 5-yard touchdown.
That play completed a 12-play, 87-yard drive and gave Hamilton his first career reception and Burns his first pass.
"Joe was right there," Burns said. "It worked just like we planned it."
Notre Dame's Jarious Jackson, who returned in a knee brace from tearing his medial collateral ligament six weeks ago, set up his team's matching score with a 33-yard completion to senior flanker Bobby Brown. Three rushes later, senior Autry Denson shimmied by his blockers and high-stepped into the end zone for a 9-yard touchdown, the first of his three rushing touchdowns, which tied a Gator Bowl record.
But patience was a virtue for the Yellow Jackets.
Hamilton engineered a 10-play, 78-yard, clock-consuming drive on the next possession, completing two passes for 37 yards en route to Phillip Rogers' 2-yard touchdown dive.
Three punts (two Irish, one Jacket) later, Hamilton led a 10-play, 84-yard drive that ate up more than four minutes, then he found split end Mike Sheridan open for a 9-yard score. That made it 21-7 at halftime.
Then things changed.
"It was like two totally different halves," O'Leary said. "The second half, Notre Dame came out and did what I thought they were going to do in the first half: run at us."
The Irish ran well. Denson, a senior, rushed for 54 yards (including the 1-yard scoring run) in an 80-yard scoring drive to open the second half.
"Really, we didn't play very well in the first half," Notre Dame coach Bob Davie said. "But it was a credit to our players. In the second half, they came out and competed extremely well."
Georgia Tech's Virgil Johnson fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and Notre Dame called rush on all but one play before Jackson scored on a 2-yard quarterback keeper to cut the lead to 21-20. (Kofi Smith blocked the extra point).
White scored his first touchdown on Tech's next possession to make it 28-20. But 10 plays later, when the Irish would have been forced to kick on fourth down, Tech's Nate Stimson was flagged for a personal foul when he flipped Jackson in the air after tackling him. That gave the Irish a first down, and Denson scored two plays later. Jackson found Brown in the end zone for two points, tying the score at 28 and setting up the final White-to-Hamilton heroics.
"What we've done all year is make big plays on offense, and that's what we did today," O'Leary said. "Joe Hamilton, Dez White, Charlie Rogers all had good games. It was a good game between two good football teams."
_ Information from Times wires was used in this report.