ATLANTA - In a season his father described as "storybook," Georgia Tech freshman quarterback Reggie Ball could certainly have written a better ending.
Ball suffered a concussion in the second quarter of the Yellow Jackets' 34-17 loss to No. 5 Georgia and did not return to the game. Ball completed 8 of 16 pass attempts for 80 yards and one interception in the game and rushed for 49 yards on 12 carries.
But Ball also took a number of hard hits, one of which apparently left the quarterback woozy according to teammates. No one was sure which hit did the damage, but Ball's collision with teammate John Paul Foschi and his sack by Tony Taylor in a span of five minutes in the second quarter apparently were the ones.
Ball was not available for comment after the game.
"You could see it in his eyes," senior wide receiver Jonathan Smith said. "He told some of the guys to stay with him because he wasn't totally with it."
The Georgia Tech coaching staff also saw it. After Ball's five-yard scramble on fourth-and-7 from the Georgia 35 - a play on which he was called for a 15-yard personal foul for pushing a trainer on the Bulldogs' sideline - the coaching staff decided he needed to be checked out.
When he jogged to the locker room before halftime, some speculated that Ball had been ejected from the game or that the Georgia Tech coaching staff was trying to calm down its young quarterback. But Ball's father, also named Reggie, said, "They pulled him out because he couldn't remember a sequence of plays."
Not that taking him out of the game was easy.
Quarterbacks coach Patrick Nix got that duty. He pulled Ball in close and broke the news to him. But Ball wanted no part of it.
"I just had to tell him A.J. was going in," Nix said. "He's a competitor. He didn't want to come out, he wanted to play."
Said Ball's father, "The competitor in you wants to play, but you have to be smart. You have to be safe about things that."
Ball's will to play could have caused him the injury in the first place. An emotional player and fiery competitor, Ball lowered his shoulder and decked Georgia cornerback Bruce Thornton on a 10-yard scramble. The quarterback also took a few shots from linebacker Odell Thurman and verbally sparred with the entire Bulldogs' defense for two quarters.
"A quarterback can't do something like that (running) the whole season. You know he is going to take some hits and he took too many obviously," Georgia defensive end David Pollack said.
Said safety Thomas Jones, "I felt like we were trying to rattle him because he was doing so much jaw-jacking. We were trying to get to him."
Ball, a 5-foot-11, 192-pounder from Stone Mountain, seemed too excited for the game. He overthrew an open Nate Curry in the end zone and fumbled twice, not including a botched snap that was erased by penalty.
"It wasn't clicking," Georgia Tech head coach Chan Gailey said. "It just wasn't clean early in the ball game. I don't know if it was jitters, I don't know what it was."
Gailey, who refused to discuss specifics of the injury, said it was a short-term one. The medical staff did not clear Ball for play in the second half, but he returned to the sidelines without shoulder pads to cheer for the Yellow Jackets. Ball climbed on the sideline benches and waved a towel during the second half.
His father, who hadn't talked with Ball after the game, called his son's freshman season a "storybook" one.
"It's what every kid from the park or high school wants to do: Go to a D-I school, start and be a factor in their success," Ball said. "This is his first year, he's got three more chances at Georgia."