AUBURN, Ala. — Some later called it a miracle, saying the word with an unhidden touch of disgust. Others called it a fluke. All described it with blank looks of shock, still reeling from a play that will haunt Georgia football players, coaches and fans for years.
“I’m kind of at a loss for words,” tailback Todd Gurley said. “You see that on ‘SportsCenter’ all the time. It just happened to us.”
“A freak play,” quarterback Aaron Murray said. “It’s like a nightmare. You try to wake up, and we’re celebrating victory.”
“A miracle play,” safety Corey Moore said. “The dude caught the ball and just kept going.”
Then Moore fell to the ground in anguish and remained there until finally summoning the mental strength to get off the ground.
There was more than just one play in this game, a 43-38 win by No. 7 Auburn on Saturday night. There was a stirring Georgia comeback, 21 points in less than eight minutes to take the lead.
There was even the defensive stand by the Bulldogs’ defense.
But all that came before the play. And it’s all that likely will be remembered.
“I saw it once, what was it the Bluegrass Miracle?” said offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, who was sitting in a Georgia coaches press box that went from exultant to silent in seconds.
He was alluding to the last-second desperation pass that LSU got to beat Kentucky in 2002. This one might take its place in SEC lore. It definitely does in Georgia and Auburn lore.
Fourth-and-18. Auburn ball at its own 27 with 36 seconds left. Georgia leading 37-36, needing just one stop.
“Getting them to fourth-and-18, that’s almost as good as it gets,” head coach Mark Richt said.
But only almost.
Georgia came with a three-man rush. Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall, kicked off the team at Georgia 21 months ago, took a short drop and heaved the ball downfield.
The coverage was there. In fact, Auburn’s Ricardo Louis had three defenders around him. As it turned out, one might have been better.Georgia freshman safety Tray Matthews got under the ball and cupped his arms, ready to pick it off and seal the victory. But fellow safety Josh Harvey-Clemons was converging on the ball, too. He reached out, and just before it would have landed in Matthews’ arms, Harvey-Clemons tipped it up.
The ball was in the air and free. Louis was alone.
He grabbed it and kept running. He scored, and disbelief ensued. Multiple Georgia players went to the ground in despair. Auburn’s sideline and fans went wild.
“Definitely a play I wish I could have back,” Harvey-Clemons tweeted.
The sophomore wasn’t on the media request list, which went out well before anyone could have predicted what would happen.
“I can’t even describe the feeling; you’re just kind of sitting there,” right tackle John Theus said. “You know things like that are possible. This game is unforgiving, and it happens.”
Moore was on the other side of the field. When he saw Marshall’s pass, Moore ran toward the ball, giving him a close view.
“It’s devastating, man,” Moore said. “You fight so hard to get back in the game like that, and it comes down to the last play, and that play right there. It’s devastating, man.”
Richt didn’t want to call it a fluke.
“It wasn’t a fluky play. They launched it out there and were hoping for a miracle,” Richt said. “When you’re playing that type of prevent defense and the goal is not to let anyone get behind you, the goal is to knock the ball down and win the game, and it just didn’t happen that way.”
Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham called a timeout right before the play and decided to go with the three-man rush. Perhaps a blitz would have affected the play in Georgia’s favor. But in the end, the Bulldogs still had three men around the pass.
“We had two guys in position; we’ve just gotta finish on the ball,” Grantham said. “It’s fourth-and-18. We want to knock the ball down and get off the field.”
The game still wasn’t over. There were still 25 seconds left, and Georgia’s offense, which had made the improbable comeback, had enough time to make it a dramatic finish.
It was a lightning-quick drive downfield. Murray hit tight end Arthur Lynch to near midfield with 18 seconds left. After a timeout, Murray hit Rantavious Wooten, who made it to the 25. Georgia called timeout with eight seconds left. Then Murray heaved an incompletion into the end zone. Auburn was offsides, moving the final play to the 20.
Bobo called for a prayer into the end zone.
“It was gonna be a jump ball, kind of like theirs,” Bobo said. “Just trying to give a guy an opportunity to make a play.”
But the rush got to Murray first, and his final pass hit the ground about 15 yards from the end zone.
Richt was lying on the ground on Murray’s final pass.
“I know some people might’ve thought I had a heart attack,” Richt said. “Bryant Gantt (a team staffer) was checking to see if I was still alive. But thankfully I didn’t have anything happen. It’s been an emotional season, obviously.”
The craziness of the final 30 seconds overshadowed what was already a wild game.
Auburn led 37-17 with 12:39 left, and a few fans already were leaving Jordan-Hare Stadium. And then Georgia’s offense, shaky for much of the game, got going.
Murray passed for two touchdowns, to Wooten and then Lynch, to make it a six-point game with 5:59 left.
Georgia’s defense, even shakier the first three quarters, came up big, sacking Marshall and forcing a punt.
That set up what was worthy of being the play of the game. On fourth-and-goal from Auburn’s 5, Murray took off and ran. He was hit near the goal line and tried to lean across. It was ruled a touchdown.
It was achingly close. A long replay review resulted in the play standing, rather than confirming it. There was 1:49 left.
Then came the final minute, and another heartbreaking loss—– but the most heartbreaking of all this season for Georgia, which fell to 6-4. Its hopes for an SEC East title are gone.
Afterwards, Richt had to address his team in the locker room.
“Well, I didn’t know what to say. Because by the time I had to speak I wasn’t really sure what to say,” he said.
Richt ended up telling them that they were an amazing group of players for making the comeback.
“I think most teams would have folded up,” Richt said. “I think most teams would have found a reason to quit. But they didn’t do that.”