ATHENS -- In the annals of the Georgia-Georgia Tech rivalry, this will not go down as the best season for either team. Nor will this game go down as the most well-played.
But it was competitive and filled with its moments, good and bad. Ultimately it came down to a missed extra point, a series of fumbles -- and an unexpected defensive stand for the home team.
And even when it seemed over, it still wasn’t.
Georgia held on for a 42-34 win on Saturday night, attaining bowl eligibility and beating its rival for the ninth time in 10 years. The result left both teams 6-6 as they finished the regular season.
“We finally made some plays at the moment of truth to make the difference,” Richt said. “It (would’ve) been sickening to be 5-7 right now, without a chance -- for it to be over.”
The final minutes were frantic at Sanford Stadium. Georgia Tech appeared ready to tie it at 35, but Scott Blair was wide left on an extra point attempt.
The ensuing kickoff nearly saw Georgia give it right back. Brandon Boykin uncorked a long return but fumbled at the 40. Luckily for the Bulldogs, Marlon Brown was right there to pick it up on the bounce.
Two plays later, Washaun Ealey ran for 29 yards to the Georgia Tech 32. But three plays after that Georgia decided to go for it on fourth-and-1, fumbled the snap, and the Jackets recovered at the 24. They had 2:53 left, with one timeout to use, and only needing a field goal.
Georgia’s defense, which struggled all night, then came up huge. It made two tackles behind the line, then forced a third-down incompletion. That set up fourth-and-17.
Yellow Jacket quarterback Tevin Washington was pressured almost immediately, and his desperation heave went incomplete. That did it for Georgia, which went into safety formation.
But instead of kneeling, the Bulldogs handed off to Washaun Ealey, who promptly scored against a Yellow Jackets defense that stood up and let him through. That padded the score, but also handed the ball back to Tech with more than a minute left.
Georgia’s Justin Houston, who had a huge final few minutes, picked off a Washington pass with 35 seconds left to seal it.
“We didn’t coach very good. Really we got outcoached right there,” Richt said. “That was good strategy by coach Johnson. ... As soon as that happened, I said, ‘He got us.’ ”
While it has been a down year for both programs, the result means both programs will go bowling. Georgia Tech, which was already bowl-eligible, is likely ticketed for the Independence Bowl, which Georgia won last year.
As for Georgia, it seems headed for either the Music City, Liberty or BBVA Compass bowls. The Liberty is the most likely destination.
“We know we can’t do anything formally until (after the BCS bowls are announced),” Liberty Bowl chairman Steve Ehrhart said. “We’re kind of under an embargo, but the fact that here I am talking to you at 12:30 in the morning, we’re pretty darn serious.”
Before the madness of the final minutes, one sequence in the third quarter tilted the balance in an evenly played game.
Georgia Tech was driving with a chance to take its first lead of the game, having just recovered a muffed punt. But Yellow Jacket halfback Roddy Jones fumbled at the 15. The ensuing scramble saw the ball kicked 16 yards toward midfield, where Georgia’s Akeem Dent finally recovered it.
Georgia’s offense, as it did all game, then drove downfield easily. But with 55 seconds left in the quarter, and facing fourth down, inches from the goal-line, it decided to go for it. After calling a timeout, Georgia put a package on the field that lacked star receiver A.J. Green, signaling the run.
It came. Ealey took a pitch-out, then broke through a hole on the right side for the go-ahead touchdown.
That gave Georgia back the lead. Then came the bigger blow to the Yellow Jackets.
On the first play of the next drive, Washington’s pitch attempt to Roddy Jones was way off. Georgia’s Justin Houston eventually picked it up, then dove at the right pylon for the score.
That made it 35-21, but the Yellow Jackets used the fourth quarter to make it a game again. They got a touchdown then forced a three-and-out, and quickly drove downfield, needing seven to tie it again. It did easily -- then came the extra point attempt.
The game looked like it could be a blowout when Georgia jumped out to a 14-0 lead, matching the number it was favored by. The Bulldogs were pretty much unstoppable in the first half, as quarterback Aaron Murray passed for 220 yards and three touchdowns.
But the Yellow Jackets fought back, as their triple-option kept confusing the Bulldog defense. Georgia Tech didn’t attempt a pass until halfway through the second quarter -- but it was a big one. The completion converted a third-and-nine, and set up the eventual game-tying touchdown.
The Bulldogs answered with another touchdown pass to go into halftime with the lead. But the Yellow Jackets tied it again on the second half’s opening drive.