Mark Richt didn’t really need to say how he felt. It was evident by the pale hue of his face and dismay in his eyes. But he did anyway.
“I’m probably as sick as I’ve ever been after a loss,” the Georgia coach said. “And I’m as sick about any call I’ve made when it came to deciding to squib the kick at the end. Basically it gave (Georgia Tech) enough field position to get in position to kick (the field goal). Not a good decision.”
It was that kind of tight, drama-filled afternoon at Sanford Stadium, where every decision was critical and every break paramount. In the end, the Yellow Jackets capitalized last to score a stunning 30-24 overtime victory over Georgia in Sanford Stadium.
Georgia scored what appeared to be the winning touchdown with 18 seconds to play in regulation on a fourth-and-goal pass from Hutson Mason to Malcolm Mitchell from three yards out. That gave the Bulldogs a 24-21 lead.
But Richt instructed Marshall Morgan to squib the ensuing kickoff, and Tech corralled it for good field position at its own 43. The Jackets went to pass but, with their receivers covered, they got a 21-run from quarterback Justin Thomas.
Turns out that was just long enough and left just enough time — four seconds — for Tech’s Harrison Butker to try a career-long 53-yard field-goal attempt.
He made it with not a yard to spare. And that sent the game into overtime tied 24-24.
Tech scored on a 2-yard run by Zach Laskey on its first overtime possession. But Georgia’s Ray Drew blocked the extra-point attempt, his second blocked kick of the day. That set up the possibility for the Bulldogs to win on a touchdown and successful point-after try.
Georgia was in position to do that, reaching Tech’s 9-yard line. But the Jackets didn’t bite on Mason’s play-action fake, and D.J. White stepped in front of Mitchell on the quick slant to the left side for a game-clinching interception.
“Well, it’s one of the worst feelings in sports,” Mason said. “You think you’ve got a storybook ending to your senior year. … Instead, it’s a pretty crappy way to go out.”
Said Richt: “A lot of heroic play by our players, even to the very end.
The win broke Tech’s five-game losing streak to the Bulldogs. It was just the second win in 14 matchups against Richt for the No. 16-ranked Yellow Jackets (10-2). Tech advances to the ACC Championship game in Charlotte, N.C., next week where it will face Florida State.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for the Georgia program, the stadium, the fans,” Tech coach Paul Johnson said. “They have a good football team and a good program. They have for a long time and they will for a long time. That’s what makes it even more impressive for us to come in here and get a win.”
For Georgia (9-3), it was a costly loss in a lot of ways. Coming a day after Missouri’s win over Arkansas ensured the No. 9-ranked Bulldogs wouldn’t play in the SEC Championship game, Georgia still had a chance to play in a major bowl, such as the Orange or Chick-fil-A Peach. As it is, the Bulldogs will be relegated to one of the second-tier bowls in Florida or Tennessee.
“It was a game we wanted to win and it was a game that those guys wanted, too,” said Georgia defensive back Damian Swann, who had a 99-yard fumble return for a touchdown. “We didn’t really take advantage of the opportunities that we had.”
The fact that Georgia had a chance to get the lead late was improbable in itself. Tech led 21-17 with 2:41 to go and had the ball deep in Bulldogs’ territory after Georgia’s botched the kickoff return. But then Thomas lost his grip on the ball on a pump fake and Amarlo Herrera recovered, setting up the Bulldogs’ last score.
And while history will say Saturday’s game was decided in overtime, Georgia really let it get away in the first half. Two fumbles inside the Jackets’ 2-yard line proved to be the difference. Those miscues — one each committed by freshman tailbacks Nick Chubb and Sony Michel — prevented the Bulldogs from being up 21-0 in the second quarter.
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