It was the kind of game Georgia and Auburn seem to always play in this storied rivalry. Last year’s 38-0 win by the Bulldogs just doesn’t happen very often. Most years the series has an incredible comeback or a remarkable ending.
Saturday we had both, and this time it was the Georgia fans who felt sick to their stomach. Perhaps next year, the Auburn faithful will feel a bit queasy.
It’s why both teams had exactly 54 wins in the series before Auburn’s stunning victory putting them one ahead. It’s just that close in the “Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry.”
For a while, it looked like Auburn was going to run away in a blowout. The Tigers dominated the first half, and the game somewhat resembled Georgia’s road trip to Columbia, S.C., last year when the Gamecocks annihilated the Bulldogs.
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Instead of the same result, quarterback Aaron Murray led Georgia back Saturday. The Bulldogs had a chance this time, and then they grabbed the lead.
But fate just wasn’t kind to them in the end.
Murray still deserves the headlines and the credit, even though his team did not win. Don’t let a small, trivial thing like the final score get in the way of what the senior quarterback did in the second half Saturday. He was remarkable. He never gave up. He played like a senior who wanted one more moment of glory, even though this season’s script already has been written.
Murray was 21-for-32 in the second half with 276 passing yards and two touchdowns. He was an incredible 7-for-8 on the opening drive of the third quarter to cut the Auburn lead to only 10 points. Murray’s run that gave Georgia the lead with less than two minutes left was obviously something we’ll remember for a long time, simply because of how close it was to deciding the game.
But there was one more play that decided the game, and it’s something you probably still can’t believe if you were watching it. If you’re a Georgia fan, you’re probably shaking your head thinking about it, while if you love Auburn, you’re just simply smiling.
Auburn had fourth-and-18 on its own 27-yard line. The Georgia defense, which had been like a leaky faucet for most of the game, had Auburn in a hole.
Remember how Georgia also made huge stops in the South Carolina game, when the Gamecocks didn’t convert a huge fourth-down play and then in the LSU game, when the Tigers had the ball near midfield but Georgia put pressure on quarterback Zach Mettenberger?
That’s all the Bulldogs had to do against Auburn. They just had to make one more big play.
But instead, something amazing happened. Quarterback Nick Marshall heaved the ball downfield, and as Georgia safety Tray Matthews looked poised to catch the ball for a game-winning interception, teammate Josh Harvey-Clemons knocked the ball in the air, only to have Auburn receiver Ricardo Louis grab it and run the rest of the way for the game-winning touchdown.
Yes, that actually happened. If we all hadn’t seen it, we never would have believed it.
It’s not something you can necessarily give Auburn credit for. The Tigers were just lucky it happened that way. But the blame will be passed around by the Georgia fans just because they’re angry.
All Harvey-Clemons had to do was let Matthews catch the ball. Louis wouldn’t have even been near the ball if it had even bounced off Matthews’ jersey, but when Harvey-Clemons punched it up in the air, it fell perfectly into Louis’ hands.
Maybe that’s what happens to a team like Auburn when it is having this kind of year. Maybe the Tigers were just supposed to win, regardless of how great the Georgia comeback was. How else do you account for something that improbable happening for an Auburn team that still has a chance of playing for a national championship?
Auburn could not have written a more perfect script to keep its dream alive.
Georgia’s players and their fans don’t really care. It probably would have just been better if the Bulldogs had been blown out. The pain of this loss will linger for a while, whereas if they had been losing by a wide margin, the fans would have either left the stadium early if they were there or perhaps switched to another game if they were watching on television.
Should we be surprised this type of game played out this way? It’s what we need to expect when these two teams get together. It’s what makes college football so great and make rivalries what they are. But for a Georgia team having a surprisingly unimpressive season, the scars may not go away for a while.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill at www.twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.