University of Georgia’s Kolton Houston, a Buford graduate, leaps into the crowd after the Bulldogs beat Georgia Tech on Friday night in Atlanta. (Staff Photo: Jason Braverman)
ATLANTA — Forget the famous book and 1990 Academy Award-winning film of the same name.
Saturday’s 108th renewal of the “Clean Old Fashioned Hate” game between Georgia and Georgia Tech represented a true reversal of fortune.
After the host Yellow Jackets dominated the first half and took as much as a 20-point lead, the visiting Bulldogs rallied in the second half to force overtime, where Todd Gurley’s fourth touchdown of the day and a big batted pass by Ramik Wilson on fourth down lifted Georgia to a 41-34 double-overtime win before 54,914 fans at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
“I’m very thankful for the victory,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said after the Bulldogs (8-4) claimed the Governor’s Cup trophy awarded annually to the winner of the in-state rivalry for the fifth straight season. “It was a great game. We’ve had a bunch of those kind of games all year, a lot of close ones, a lot that have just come down to the wire — last play, last series, overtime twice.
“I want to give credit to Georgia Tech and the job they did. They came out really ready to play and took that 20 point lead. They were playing extremely well. We were just fighting for our lives. … So many little things had to go just right for us to fight our way back in there.”
The outcome marked a glorious beginning to Hutson Mason’s career as Georgia’s starting quarterback, as the redshirt junior from Marietta finished the game 22 of 36 with one interception for 299 yards and two touchdowns in his inaugural start under center.
“This is what it’s all about,” Mason said. “All those times when I thought about transferring and sitting and talking with Coach Richt in his office — this game, this type of game is what I dreamed of. This was the kind of game I dreamed of being a part of. I’m so thankful for this opportunity, and I’m just glad to be a Bulldog.”
It also marked a bitter end for Robert Godhigh and 19 other Tech (7-5) seniors, who saw their final game at Bobby Dodd Stadium end with a loss to keep them winless against their most bitter rival.
“It’s a lot of emotions,” said the redshirt senior, who finished the day with 153 yards of total offense — 71 rushing and 82 receiving. “It’s our last game at home, we had the lead most of the game, losing the game in overtime — all of those hurt. It definitely hurts a lot. … There was definitely a lot of motivation going into this game. We just couldn’t pull it out.”
Tech couldn’t have asked for a better start.
Facing third and 8 on its own 26-yard line just two plays into the game, Darren Waller got behind the Georgia secondary and Vad Lee hit him in stride.
Only Sheldon Dawson kept the 6-foot-4, 225-pound junior from scoring by dragging him down at the Georgia 6, and Vad Lee sneaked into the end zone two plays later from 4 yards out to give the Jackets a 7-0 lead just 1:59 after the opening kickoff.
“We had a good game plan coming in,” said Lee, who threw for a career high 232 yards and two touchdowns on 11 of 23 passing with two interceptions on the day “We knew that we were going to try to hit some big pass plays, and we did in the beginning. If only we could’ve hit some of those plays towards the end, we could’ve finished them. But we had a good game plan. It was there. All I had to do was throw the receivers the ball, and they made it happen.”
Lee made it happen four more times for 171 yards over the rest of the first half, including a 43-yard hook-up with Godhigh that set up Harrison Butker’s 37-yard field goal with 3:33 left in the first quarter and a 26-yard scoring strike to DeAndre Smelter that gave the Jackets suddenly had a 17-0 lead with 1:52 still left in the opening frame.
Another Butker field goal, this one from 22 yards out, completed a 15-play, 87-yard march that drained 8:05 from the second quarter and left the Jackets’ lead was a whopping 20-0 with 6:33 left in the first half.
But matters started to turn the Bulldogs’ way when Synjyn Days’ couldn’t hold onto a third-down pass from Lee and Tech was forced to punt for the first time all day with 1:43 left in the half.
Mason, who had been sacked twice and harassed into an interception in an otherwise forgettable first half, led Georgia on a seven-play, 86-yard drive.
The march ended when he hit Gurley with a pass in the flat that the sophomore running back accentuated with an athletic leap and reach into the end zone for a 9-yard score with 42 seconds left, cutting Tech’s lead to 20-7 heading into the locker room.
The drive signaled a difference in the performance of Georgia’s offensive line, as well as a dramatic swing in momentum.
“Really, starting with the last possession of the first half, we never really got any pressure on (Mason),” Tech coach Paul Johnson said. “He had all day to throw the ball. That was a killer.”
That momentum carried over into the first possession of the second half, when Georgia marched 63 yards in 15 plays that looked like it had pulled the Bulldogs to within a touchdown when Mason hit Gurley for a touchdown on a swing pass.
The score was negated by a 15-yard illegal block penalty, and the Bulldogs were forced to settle for Marshall Morgan’s 40-yard field goal to cut the Tech lead to 20-10 with 9:28 left in the third quarter.
But if that drive didn’t fully turn momentum Georgia’s way, Tech’s next possession did.
After coming up short on third down, Butker’s 43-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left, and the Jackets’ lead was still an increasingly precarious 10 points.
And when Mason hit Michael Bennett on a 9-yard scoring strike on Georgia’s next possession, the Bulldogs were suddenly within a field goal at 20-17 with 2:26 left in the period.
The two teams traded fourth-quarter touchdowns, with Lee connecting with Smelter for the second time on the day, this one from 7 yards out with 10:34 remaining and Gurley answering with a 2-yard scoring run to leave Tech’s lead at 27-24 with 6:37 left.
Josh Harvey-Clemons then picked off Lee two plays letter to set up Georgia at the Tech 25 with 5:43 remaining, setting up Morgan’s 32-yard field goal that tied the game for the first time since the start of the game at 27-all with 4:17 left and eventually forced overtime.
Each team tallied a TD in the first extra frame, with Lee giving Tech a 34-27 lead with a 2-yard run and Gurley re-tying the game at 34-apiece with a 6-yard run.
And Gurley, who had been held in check for just 36 yards through the first three quarters, burst through the Tech line for a 25-yard scoring run on the first play of the second overtime to put the Bulldogs in front for the first and only time of the day at 41-34. Gurley finished with 122 yards on 20 carries, with 86 of those yards coming in the fourth quarter and the two overtimes.
The Jackets had one last shot, facing fourth and 5 from the 6-yard line, but Wilson got a hand on Lee’s pass to Waller in the end zone and popped it in the air.
And unlike two weeks ago at Auburn, a couple of diving Tech receivers were unable to snag the loose ball, allowing Georgia to steal with victory.
“That ball was up there for a while,” said Wilson, who finished with nine tackles, including one for loss, to go along with the pass break-up. “I hit it as hard as I could trying to make a play to end this game. That’s all I was thinking — knock it down.”