The seventh and latest episode of tight contests in 2013 featured a come-from-behind, double-overtime victory over the in-state rival Yellow Jackets that will assuredly go down in the annals of the 108-year rivalry.
Hutson Mason led the Bulldogs to an emotional second half comeback after falling behind 20-0 well into the second quarter, but it was a pair of Todd Gurley touchdowns on the back-end of his 50 rush yards in both overtimes that eventually sealed the win.
“I’m just glad we’re still standing,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said.
Georgia won the toss of the first overtime and elected to play defense before giving way to a 2-yard touchdown run by Georgia Tech’s Vad Lee after a six-play drive. The Bulldogs responded behind the brute of Gurley, who extended the game to the second period with three straight rushes and a score.
Richt elected to give it right back to Gurley on the ensuing play – the first of double overtime – and watched the tailback scamper 25-yards to the endzone while giving Georgia its first lead of the game.
The Yellow Jackets wouldn’t quit and marched to the goal line before meeting a pivotal defensive stop on a tipped pass that hung in the air for four seconds.
It was all too familiar for Richt, whose team erased a 20-point deficit at Auburn two weeks ago before a 73-yard tipped pass on 4th and 18 miraculously reached a Tigers receiver for a touchdown.
“I just waited,” Richt said of his mindset while the ball was in the air. “I just waited until the ball hit the ground. When the official gave the signal incomplete, that’s when I could breathe a sigh of relief.”
Overtime was all but a foregone thought during the early stages before the Bulldogs punched in a touchdown on a Mason pass to Gurley with 34 seconds left in the half. The score restored confidence in the team and propelled them to another 10 unanswered points in the third.
“Really all we needed was that one touchdown,” Mason said. “Just put it on the board and calm all the nerves. I think you saw after we scored a touchdown that things started to just roll. It was huge. We knew we were in it.”
The teams swapped a pair of touchdowns in the third before the Bulldogs tied the game on a 32-yard field goal, and eventually sent the game to overtime and earned the win.
“It was a hard game to lose,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said. “It was a gut-wrenching game. It would have been for either side.”
Saturday’s game embodied all the drama of Georgia’s topsy-turvy season; the seventh contest this year decided by five points or fewer, of which only four were victories.
The win also marked Georgia’s largest deficit overcome in Richt’s 13 seasons and ascended the coach’s win tally over the Yellow Jackets to an even dozen.
The Bulldogs accomplished both feats on the heels of Aaron Murray’s tragic ACL injury last weekend that ended the redshirt senior’s college career.
Mason, who assumed Murray’s role, finished 22-of-26 for 299 yards, a pair of touchdowns and an interception ¬– about what he expected given the circumstances of his first start: in his hometown yet on the road against an in-state rival that Georgia prides itself on beating every year.
“Being in a big crowd, in a big environment for the first time, it’s hard to go in your first game into an opponent’s stadium and stay composed,” said Mason, who hails from the Atlanta suburbs. “The first half definitely wasn’t pretty but we just kept fighting and came back and stuck together.”
“Just being here for four years, these types of games are the games you dream about being a part of,” he said.
It looks like a trip to Jacksonville is next in store for the Bulldogs, as most experts predict them playing in the Gator Bowl with a likely match-up against Michigan. Georgia (8-4) plays Florida annually in Jacksonville but hasn’t played a bowl game there since Vince Dooley’s final game as head coach on New Years Day of 1989.
No official word will come until next Sunday after conference championship weekend.