ATHENS Nothing should surprise us in a rivalry game. It’s what we look for every year — good football, maybe an occasional upset and games we will remember for years.
It’s why a team like N.C. State can beat North Carolina, why a team like Iowa can upset Nebraska, why Ohio State and Michigan can go into overtime and why we wait for something crazy to happen in the Alabama–Auburn game each and every year.
Saturday in Athens, we saw two mediocre teams play a pretty good football game. It was tied at 14 at halftime, then Georgia won the third quarter and Georgia Tech won when it counted in the end.
If we wanted the Georgia-Georgia Tech game to become even more of a rivalry, maybe we have it now.
These were two teams battling for an eighth win of the season, a far cry from having two of the best teams in the country. But it wasn’t just about getting win No. 8. This was for bragging rights. It might be cheapened a bit due to the records, but it still meant everything.
We knew the team that ran the ball the best likely would win, but who could have expected this? Georgia looked as if it had the game won in the third quarter, after 20 unanswered points. But then Georgia Tech answered with an amazing fourth quarter.
Look at the breakdown. Georgia won the third quarter with a touchdown and two field goals. The Bulldogs had 19 offensive plays for 129 yards. The Yellow Jackets were shut down, with only 21 yards on 10 offensive plays. Georgia forced a fumble and had two three-and outs on defense.
The fourth quarter was totally different. Georgia Tech held Georgia to just 34 offensive yards on 15 plays, while gaining 168 yards on 23 offensive plays to score the two touchdowns needed to win by one point.
“Those guys just made the plays,” Georgia safety Dominick Sanders said. “The fact they made more plays than us, and the results didn’t come out for us, it hurts. We have to learn from it.”
Bulldogs linebacker Davin Bellamy added, “I don’t want to take any credit away from them. They came out, they jumped out on us early. We responded, and they finished the game. This game is going to be like this almost every year because both teams are going to bring it. A lot of those plays in the fourth quarter were just second-effort plays, like that guy dove from the five. He stretched the ball in and put his body on the line for his team. No adjustment can stop that.”
Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson has won in Athens twice before, including another close game two years ago. But he seemed to enjoy this one just a bit more.
“It was a great college football game,” Johnson said. “We just kept playing. It was a team win. We hung in there on defense. We like coming from behind here.”
The back-and-forth is what college football fans who had nothing at stake probably enjoyed. But this was two state teams, two teams separated by 68 miles, battling back and forth. Both got knocked down, got off the mat and recovered, with Georgia Tech standing tall at the end.
“This game is a hatred game,” Bellamy said. “Both teams are going to bring it. They brought it. They fought and they were the better team. It’s going to hurt a lot. They deserve to say they’re top dog in the state of Georgia for 365 days. They’ve got the Governor’s Cup, and we’re going home empty-handed.”
“They made plays. We made plays. They just made more than us,” Sanders said.
And sometimes, that’s all it takes in a rivalry game. The team that makes the plays at the end can easily wind up winning by one measly point.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on “Middle Georgia’s ESPN” – 93.1 FM in Macon and 99.5 FM in Warner Robins. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at email@example.com.