ATLANTA -- Well, if you wanted to make a rivalry known for ‘clean, ole fashioned hate’ a little less clean, Saturday’s game in Atlanta probably did the trick.
It was not a matchup of two teams in the national title hunt, as was happening at the same time to the west in Alabama. It was a matchup of two teams battling for their eighth win of the regular season, and oh what a battle it was at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
And it ended on, of all things ... a tipped pass at the end.
This time the ball fell in Georgia’s favor, and this time the comeback didn’t fall short into the hands of the opposing receiver.
Trailing 20-0 late in the second quarter, Georgia scored right before the half to cut Georgia Tech’s lead to 13. That touchdown seemed to make a difference, much like the touchdown in the opening drive of the third quarter against Auburn two weeks ago. That score two weeks ago gave the Bulldogs a chance after they had been down by 17 points at the half.
“Really all we needed was that one touchdown,” first-time starting quarterback Hutson Mason said. “We needed that one touchdown to put on the board to calm all the nerves. I think you saw after we scored the touchdown it just seemed like things started to roll. That was huge.”
Georgia had been lethargic up until that point, and Georgia Tech simply looked like the better team. If the Yellow Jackets had kept the Bulldogs from scoring, it might have been an insurmountable lead at intermission. But Mason stayed cool and simply did something he has done a lot in practice preparing for this moment.
“Really every Thursday this year Hutson has been the one taking the snaps in the one-minute situation against our defense, so he hasn’t had a lot of game experience but he’s had a lot of practice experience at it, so I felt comfortable going with it,” Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said.
Mason wasn’t perfect. He looked rusty at times and looked like a player who didn’t have a lot of experience. You wonder if Georgia Tech believed only Aaron Murray could have led Georgia back after being down by 20 points, but the quarterback who is a junior really didn’t look like a rookie leading the Bulldogs back.
“It’s been a long time since Hutson has played football, and you could tell early on, but he made the plays when it counted,” Bobo said.
It was obvious as the game went into overtime that someone was going to have to make a play on defense. Both teams’ defensive units were tired, and it was easy to believe the game could have gone into five or six extra periods.
But on the final play of the game, on fourth-and-5 from the 6-yard line, Georgia Tech quarterback Vad Lee didn’t have the same luck Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall had two weeks ago.
“We had a feeling he was going to do a quarterback draw, so we had my spying on him, and I just read his eyes and saw there was a slant coming right behind me, so I jumped up and tried to pick it and ended up slapping it hard,” Georgia linebacker Ramik Wilson said.
The ball then popped in the air, and Georgia cornerback Damian Swann knocked it away from any Georgia Tech receiver.
“It was a little crazy,” Wilson said. “Everything happens for a reason. Swann knocked it down after I hit it, so I’m glad he was there.”
Yes, the game ended on a tipped pass.
It was somewhat appropriate considering this season for Georgia. This was an entertaining football game between two average teams. But maybe a crazy ending will spur a rivalry that some believe has lost its luster the past few years.
“They hate our guts,” Georgia wide receiver Michael Bennett said. “You could tell out there just by all the after play stuff. There was so much crap talking going on. We hate each other. Bottom line, I’m not going to lie to you, we hate each other. So it’s always good to get that win.”
And that will make the hate less clean moving forward, which is just what a rivalry should be between two in-state teams.
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