Photo: Craig Cappy Georgia's Kyle Karempelis (33), a Wesleyan grad, runs for 10-yards as he is chased down by New Mexico State's Donyae Coleman (3) during Saturday's game.
ATHENS -- The highly-publicized suspensions to running backs Isaiah Crowell, Carlton Thomas and Ken Malcome, plus the loss of Richard Samuel to ankle surgery, may have caused some consternation among the Bulldog nation this week.
But for Kyle Karempelis, it was an opportunity, one the redshirt freshman took full advantage of during Georgia's 63-16 win over New Mexico State on Saturday at Sanford Stadium.
The lopsided win allowed the two-time former Gwinnett County rushing leader to see the first action of his college career, running for 63 yards on 13 carries.
"It's unbelievable. It's a dream come true, really," said Karempelis, who gave up scholarship offers from smaller, Division I-AA programs to walk on at Georgia. "I've been dreaming about it for a long time. ... I was pretty pumped up. It was kind of like those butterflies from the first game in high school. ... But you just focus in ... on football."
Karempelis got his first carry with just under 10 minutes remaining in the first half, and made an immediate impact.
After taking his first carry 3 yards, the 5-foot-8, 180-pound freshman walk-on busted off a 20-yard gain to set up Aaron Murray's 11-yard touchdown pass to Michael Bennett to push the Bulldogs' lead to 18 points with 8:41 left in the half.
While the college experience was new to Karempelis, Saturday turned out to be just like old times, especially after his fellow Wesleyan grad and true freshman David Andrews also got onto the field for the first time as a college player.
The 6-2, 280-pound reserve center spelled starter Ben Jones beginning in the second half and opened a hole for his former high school teammate's first college touchdown on a 1-yard dive with 2:16 left in the third quarter, giving the pair a chance to continue a tradition they started at Wesleyan.
"That was neat. Just like old times," said Karempelis, who scored 93 touchdowns in his career at Wesleyan. "He lifted me up after every touchdown. So, it was neat he was in the game when I scored my first (college) touchdown."
While Karempelis got the glory, it was just as much a thrill for Andrews, and he's glad his fellow former Wolves standout waited until he got into the game to get into the end zone.
"I told him all week if he scored before I was in there, I was not going to be happy with him," Andrews joked. "It was awesome to be out there for his first touchdown and blocking for him. We had such a good relationship in high school and did a lot of special things in high school. Just the idea of doing it again in front of such a big crowd on a big stage -- it was an awesome experience."
Karempelis, along with fellow reserve Brandon Harton, also earned plenty of praise from head coach Mark Richt, who knew both little-used players had to be nervous.
"I told Harton and Karempelis, 'The No. 1 priority is secure the football,'" Richt said, referring to Harton's fumble on Georgia's first drive. "That's what I told them all week. I said, 'I don't care what happens after that.' ... Then Harton spit it up, and I think he was afraid to come (to) the sideline. I hugged him and told him I still loved him.
"But it might've affected Karempelis. Karempelis looked like he was running with two hands on the ball just about every step of the way. (Offensive coordinator Mike) Bobo is like, 'You've got to give him the freedom to fumble because he's squeezing the ball so tight. I thought they both did good. I hope they enjoyed the opportunity. I was proud of both of them."
One for the books
While Murray worked only the first half Saturday, he nonetheless entered himself in the school's record book.
The 6-1, 211-pound redshirt sophomore, who completed 18 of 23 yards for 238 yards on the day, had five touchdown passes in the opening 30 minutes.
That tied the school record held by four other Bulldog quarterbacks, including South Gwinnett grad David Green (vs. LSU in 2004), plus Joe Cox (vs. Arkansas in 2009), Matthew Stafford (vs. Georgia Tech in 2008) and D.J. Shockley (vs. Boise State in 2005).
Perhaps even more remarkably, all five of Murray's touchdown passes came to a different receiver, with Bennett, Brandon Boykin, Chris Conley, Orson Charles and Aron White each hauling in a TD pass.
Cornering the scoring
Another by-product of the running back injuries and suspensions was an oddity in which both of Georgia's starting cornerbacks produced offensive touchdowns.
Junior Branden Smith, who actually shares the starting job at one corner with Sanders Commings, got the start for the Bulldogs at tailback and ran for a 3-yard gain on the first snap of Georgia's initial offensive possession.
The 5-11, 176-pounder also had the biggest running play of the day for the Bulldogs' running game with his 56-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.
Saturday's lopsided win allowed Georgia the luxury of getting many more players that normally don't get much action to see the field.
And like Karempelis, many of them made big contributions.
Conley's TD catch was his first of the season, while back-up placekicker Brandon Bogotay alternated with starter Brandon Walsh to kick four of the Bulldogs' extra points and White provided one of the game's amusing moments by getting stuck after falling into the fabled hedges following his 6-yard touchdown reception from Murray.
And a few of Georgia's other Gwinnett grads were also among the non-regulars who provided the Bulldogs with a boost Saturday.
Peachtree Ridge grad Connor Norman finished with four tackles on the day, while Dacula grad Jeremy Sulek added two tackles and a fumble recovery.
GAC's Christian Robinson, who is in the normal rotation among Georgia's linebackers, also had three tackles, while Peachtree Ridge grad Drew Butler punted three times for a 35.7-yard average.