ATHENS -– It was an incredible play that looked, for a fleeting moment, like it would win the game: A.J. Green out-jumping and out-wrestling a defender for the football in the end zone to give Georgia a 13-12 lead over LSU with just over a minute to play Saturday.
Alas, the play that might have won the game triggered a celebration that helped lose the game.
Georgia was penalized 15 yards on the subsequent kickoff for what officials called an excessive celebration by Green, starting a rapid turn of events that wound up with No. 4-ranked LSU leaving Sanford Stadium a 20-13 winner over the Bulldogs.
With Georgia kicking off from the 15-yard line instead of the 30, LSU's Trindon Holliday returned the kick past midfield, and two plays later Charles Scott broke free from three tacklers and sprinted 33 yards for the game-winning touchdown.
"To me, if you're losing a game and it's late in the game and it looks like all hope is lost and you get down the field and you score a touchdown, I think that probably was the right amout of celebration," Georgia coach Mark Richt said.
"I don't know if it was excessive for the moment. ... I didn't think we went too crazy."
But Richt acknowledged he didn't know exactly what transpired amid the pandemonium.
"I'm sad that it happened," he said.
The officiating crew said, in a statement provided by the SEC later Saturday night, that "following a brief team celebration, Green made a gesture to the crowd calling attention to himself," thus drawing the flag.
Green's touchdown put Georgia on the verge of victory in an improbable game in which the Bulldogs mustered only one first down and 49 offensive yards in the first half. Georgia's defense held LSU to two field goals in the first half despite being on the field for 42 plays, and the Bulldogs showed some life on offense in the second half, boosted by the debut of freshman running back Washaun Ealey.
After Georgia took a 7-6 lead early in the fourth quarter and LSU answered with a touchdown to go back ahead 12-7, the Bulldogs got in position for familiar heroics from Green. A 46-yard Joe Cox-to-Tavarres King pass advanced the ball to the LSU 16, and two plays later Green made the spectacular catch to wrest the ball away from Tigers cornerback Chris Hawkins.
That put Georgia ahead by a point with 1:09 to play, a lead that might have held if the excessive-celebration penalty had not produced good field position for LSU.
"I definitely didn't think I did anything that would [draw a penalty]," Green said later. "I was surprised, but you can't argue with them."
Green added: "I'll be cautious next time – just give the ref the ball."
Georgia still could have stopped LSU, of course, but the speedy Holliday ran 40 yards with the kickoff and, two plays later, Scott broke loose from at least three Georgia tacklers -- Jeff Owens at the line of scrimmage and Rennie Curran and Marcus Dowtin beyond the line – for the game-winning touchdown.
It was a bad ending to what had been a good day for the defense.
"I feel like we did a lot of good things, but we came up short in the end," Curran said. "Charles Scott – he's a great back; he runs hard. You got to wrap that guy up, and the one time we didn't, you saw what happened.
"The one time it mattered is the one time we flinched. ... That's pretty much what got us beat."
The officials also called an excessive-celebration penalty on LSU after Scott's score.
"I thought they were well within their celebratory rights, too," Richt said.
In the end, LSU left Sanford Stadium with something to celebrate – a victory that improved its record to 5-0. Georgia dropped to 3-2 (2-1 SEC), heading into Saturday's game at Tennessee.
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