After convincing his head coach he could throw during a short tryout on the sideline, the senior quarterback led the No. 8 Bulldogs to the clinching field goal in a 19-13 victory over rival Georgia Tech.
“He certainly wasn’t at his best physically, but he was probably at his best in the leadership role he took on,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said.
The senior day game drew a sellout crowd of 92,746 to Sanford Stadium but -- due to a 16-0 halftime lead for the Bulldogs, temperatures in the low 40s and a cold, hard rain -- less than half of them were there to see the end.
“It wasn’t a pretty game by any measure,” Greene said, “weather-wise or how we played.”
Greene played the first two series of the game before breaking a small bone at the end of the thumb on his throwing hand. He didn’t return until there was 7:11 left, but he led the Bulldogs 40 yards on 10 plays and into Georgia Tech territory for the first time in the second half.
When the drive stalled, Brandon Coutu came on in place of Andy Bailey for his first collegiate field goal attempt and hit a 44-yarder with 2:16 left to put Georgia (9-2) up by six.
The kick set up one final drive for the Jackets (6-5), who took over at the Bulldogs’ 33-yard line with more than two minutes remaining. Sophomore quarterback Reggie Ball led Tech to Georgia’s 32-yard line but threw the ball away on a fourth-and-21 with 28 seconds left to seal the outcome.
Ball said after the game he thought it was third down when he threw the ball away, and Yellow Jacket coach Chan Gailey also was confused on the situation. Gailey called for a spike on third down, thinking it was second down and didn’t have time to change the play, when he realized his mistake, he said. Even after the spike, Ball still thought it was third down, a belief that was validated by the Sanford Stadium scoreboard, which read third down until just before Tech’s final play.
“You’ve got a game this close, you‘ve got to expect a little home cooking,” Ball said. “You just have to fight through it still.”
It was the Yellow Jackets’ fourth straight loss to the Bulldogs.
“It would have been easy to lay down at halftime, down 16-0, but they came out and fought and got back into it, but losing is losing and that’s the bad part about it,” Gailey said. “You can’t feel good about coming back because you didn’t win, and I thought we were going to win the game.”
It was beginning to feel that way in the third quarter.
The Bulldogs held it together without Greene, Fred Gibson (hip pointer), Jeremy Thomas (eye) and Danny Ware (broken hand) until halftime, but everything came apart in the third quarter. Georgia had minus-15 yards offense on 10 plays in that quarter and also fumbled away a kickoff to give the Yellow Jackets possession at the Bulldog 14-yard line.
“It seemed like it was going to take forever,” Georgia safety Thomas Davis said of the third quarter. “We felt that was a challenge to us. All in all, we feel like we answered the challenge.”
Georgia Tech didn’t run an offensive play from its territory until its sixth drive of the second half. Its three scoring drives in the third quarter totaled 64 yards. A 40-yard Travis Bell field goal capped the last of those drives and pulled the Jackets within three at 16-13 with seven seconds remaining in the quarter.
Richt said his team lost its poise and discipline in the third quarter and thought the performance was so poor that he apologized to the team’s fans after the game.
Backup quarterback D.J. Shockley led the Bulldogs until Greene convinced Richt he could re-enter the game.
“I told him as long as we keep (the throws) short, I’ll be fine, and I told him I’d prefer to stay in the shotgun,” Greene said.
When he got into the game, he gave his offense a tongue-lashing.
“When he came back in the huddle, he gave us a little speech and told us to pick it up,” freshman running back Thomas Davis said. “He was frustrated. He said from the sideline it looked like we were moping around and not getting the job done.”
“There at the end of the game, I was fired up,” David Greene admitted. “I was trying to challenge the offense. I wanted to get a little fire under them. I got after them a little bit.”
The offensive line responded to the pep talk by opening up holes for Brown, who rushed for 20 yards on the final drive, more than half Georgia’s total for the game (34). And, playing with an injury serious enough that it may keep him out of the Bulldogs’ bowl game, Greene was 2 of 3 for 20 yards on the final drive.
“I’m sitting there thinking, ‘This is this guy’s last chance to play in this stadium, who am I to keep him out of there?’” Richt said. “He deserved the opportunity.”
And he made the most of it.