ATLANTA — They had long been written off.
As defensive woes and offensive miscues highlighted some of the Georgia Bulldogs’ most painful losses this season, there was good reason they had unofficially been dubbed the inferior team in their home state.
After all, while they were enduring one of the most disappointing regular seasons in recent memory in Athens, while their rival to the west, Georgia Tech, was in midst of one of its best in nearly two decades.
But none of that would matter Saturday night.
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A year removed from being upset at home and having their stadium ravaged by hedge-nabbing Yellow Jackets, the Bulldogs exacted some revenge at Bobby Dodd Stadium, beating No. 7 Georgia Tech 30-24.
“We saw the pictures of them with the hedges in their mouth — the pictures of them celebrating on our field — and that was enough to get us motivated,” Georgia linebacker Rennie Curran said. “We didn’t need to see any film or anything like that. Those pictures and what they did at our house was enough.”
Beating the Yellow Jackets seven straight years before Georgia Tech’s 45-42 road win last November, the Bulldogs have been the recent kings of this series. Curran said he and his teammates were focused on making their opponents recognize that.
“We wanted to come in here and set the record straight and let it be known that we’re a team that’s about business,” Curran said.
That was plainly — and painfully — obvious early on.
Playing the Yellow Jackets’ extremely physically all game, Georgia sent four players out of the game in the first half with injuries, including one who did not return.
One of those injured Yellow Jackets who did make a comeback was quarterback Josh Nesbitt, who was run from the game late in the first quarter after suffering a high ankle injury.
During that same play which chased him from the game for X-rays — he later returned with nearly two minutes remaining in the opening half — Nesbitt’s left arm also appeared to get twisted awkwardly by a Georgia player who grabbed hold of it and pulled it backward as players tried to clear the pile that formed after a 4-yard Nesbitt run.
When Nesbitt left the game, sophomore Jaybo Shaw took over at quarterback and threw an interception on his only passing attempt.
“It wasn’t a huge drop-off. Jaybo played pretty well, but it always hurts when you lose a player like that,” Georgia Tech center Sean Bedford said.
While Georgia defenders were unloading hard hits on the Yellow Jackets, its young running backs delivered similar painful blows to Georgia Tech’s own defense.
Georgia running backs Caleb King and Washaun Ealey both rushed for more than 100 yards, marking the first time since 2004 that two Bulldogs backs has accomplished the feat in a single game. The last pair was Thomas Brown and Danny Ware against Vanderbilt.
A true freshman, Ealey’s 183 yards was a career-high, and sparked a Georgia offensive attack that amassed 339 yards on the ground. It was the Bulldogs’ highest rushing tally in a game during head coach Mark Richt’s tenure, and the most rushing yards Georgia Tech had allowed since 1994.
“You have to give Georgia some credit, they said they were going to run the ball and they came in and ran the ball,” Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson said. “It didn’t surprise anybody. We kind of knew that’s what they were going to do; we just couldn’t stop it.”
Sophomore running back Caleb King proved to be unstoppable nearly two minutes into the third quarter, when he broke off a 75-yard touchdown run straight up the middle of the Yellow Jackets’ defense. The score came just 28 seconds following a 76-yard Georgia Tech touchdown pass that brought the game to within one score.
Doing their best to keep the game close in the fourth quarter, the Yellow Jackets saw the game slip completely out of their hands in the final two minutes. Calling for four consecutive passing plays on their final offensive plays of the game, they misfired each time.
The final passing attempt, on fourth down, was a short out route along Georgia Tech’s sideline. After reaching the first-down marker, junior receiver Demaryius Thomas — the West Laurens product who earlier hauled in the 76-yard touchdown — dropped the final pass as he tried to keep his feet in bounds.
Heartbroken, he dropped to his knees after walking to the sideline.
“(I said) ‘Just keep your head up, you’ve done a lot of great things for this team, don’t let one play define what you’ve done,’ ” Nesbitt said he told Thomas.
Thomas may be eager to get redemption for the drop. He will have the chance this weekend when the Yellow Jackets travel to Tampa, Fla. to take on Clemson in the ACC championship. A win in that game, and the Yellow Jackets still have a chance to advance to a BCS bowl.
One player who got his own redemption Saturday was Georgia’s Reshad Jones. In 2008, the safety was credited with missing a key tackle on Georgia Tech A-back Roddy Jones to spark Roddy Jones’ 54-yard touchdown run that sealed the Yellow Jackets’ victory.
In his latest effort, Reshad Jones had seven tackles, a key pass breakup and an interception.
“It was big,” Reshad Jones said. “We had a loss last year and I probably was the reason why we had that loss. So I just wanted to go out in my home state and show all my family and friends that I’m here to play.”