That didn’t take anything away from the South’s oldest rivalry, though. The No. 9 Bulldogs and No. 15 Auburn traded the lead nine times in front of 92,746 fans before the Tigers won 31-30 on a 20-yard John Vaughn field goal with :06 remaining.
It was the 109th meeting between the teams. It also marked the first time the Bulldogs have lost two straight since November of 2001 and their first home loss since October of last year.
Georgia’s Brandon Coutu hit a 41-yard field goal with 3:25 remaining that put the Bulldogs up 30-28. The Bulldogs then had Auburn facing a fourth-and-10 from its own 35-yard line, but Brandon Cox found Devin Aromashodu for a 62-yard gain to Georgia’s 3-yard line. Four plays later, Vaughn booted the chip shot winner through.
Aromashodu appeared originally to have scored, but he fumbled at the 3-yard line and the ball was brought back to that point with 1:52 remaining. The Bulldogs considered allowing the Tigers to score so they would have more time to mount a comeback, but they decided to take their chances.
“It’s hard to do that,” Coach Mark Richt said. “It’s hard to say, ‘Hey guys, lay down on this one.’ It might have been the wise thing to do. (But) things can happen.”
“As you think back on it, you maybe wish you had that 1:30,” quarterback D.J. Shockley said.
The Bulldogs took heart after the loss that they still can go to the SEC Championship Game with a win over Kentucky at home next week. That’s thanks to South Carolina’s 30-22 win over Florida earlier in the day, which left Georgia needing to win just one of its remaining two conference games to clinch the SEC East. The Bulldogs (7-2, 5-2 SEC) play the Wildcats at 12:30 p.m.
“That’s a lot of consolation. Are you kidding me?” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “I’d like to thank Steve Spurrier and the Gamecocks. That’s huge. To have a chance to win this league is a very, very big deal to us.”
If Georgia loses, South Carolina will play in the SEC title game.
“If Florida had won,” safety Greg Blue said, “we probably would have torn this locker room up.”
Auburn (8-2, 6-1) didn’t get the help it was hoping for before the game. Moments before Saturday’s game started, LSU finished off a 16-13 overtime win over Alabama that all but locked up the SEC West for the Bengal Tigers. LSU will play in the SEC Championship Game if it beats Ole Miss and Arkansas to finish off its conference season.
Georgia’s coaches and players were at a loss to explain what happened on the long pass to Aromashodu. The Bulldogs were in a three-deep zone on the play.
“I don’t know who was supposed to be in that third,” cornerback Paul Oliver said, “but (Aromashodu) was just running by himself.”
Defensive coordinator Willie Martinez also wasn’t sure which player missed his assignment.
“The guys upstairs (in the coaches’ box) couldn’t tell me,” he said.
In all, the Georgia defense gave up 506 yards to Auburn.
“We just didn’t hold our weight at the end,” Blue said. “It’s kind of emotional because our defense isn’t used to that.”
The other key moment in the game came with 12:33 left in the third quarter after Thomas Brown scored on a 6-yard run to put Georgia ahead 27-21. The Bulldogs wanted to go for a two-point conversion but ended up having to kick an extra point after a delay of game penalty.
The penalty came because Georgia’s coaches didn’t do a good job of telling the extra point team not to run on the field, Richt said. When several members of that team ran onto the field after the score, some of the offensive players became confused, Richt said.
That was about the only moment of offensive confusion in the game. The nation’s eighth, Georgia, and ninth, Auburn, best defenses were often watching the Shockley and Kenny Irons Show on Saturday night.
Shockley, Georgia’s senior quarterback, returned from a one-game injury absence in top form. He led the Bulldogs’ no-huddle offense, which they used more than they have the rest of the year combined, beautifully. He finished 20-of-36 passing for 304 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. His numbers would have been even better if Georgia’s receivers hadn’t struggled holding onto passes again.
Irons, a junior transfer from South Carolina, shined just as brightly for the Tigers. He had 114 all-purpose yards in the first quarter and surpassed 100 rushing yards with 12 minutes left in the second quarter. He finished with 179 yards on the ground.
Iron’s only mistake came with 9:47 left in the game, when he fumbled the ball away inside Georgia’s 15-yard line. Bulldog cornerback DeMario Minter punched the ball out of Irons’ grasp, and true freshman Jeff Owens recovered it at Georgia’s 11-yard line.
The play was reviewed but upheld, and that turned out to be a good thing for the Tigers because Bulldog fullback Brannan Southerland fumbled the ball away two plays later, and linebacker Karibi Dede pickedit up and returned it 15 yards for a touchdown. John Vaughn’s exta point gave the Tigers a 28-27 lead with 9:27 left.
Georgia trailed 14-13 at halftime but quickly took a 20-14 lead as Shockley found freshman Mohamed Massaquoi for a 9-yard touchdown with 10:45 left in the third quarter. Massaquoi had a career-high in catches, five, and yards, 78, by the end of the third quarter. The Bulldogs looked like they might give themselves some cushion, forcing Auburn to punt after its first six offensive plays of the half.
However, Bulldog punt returner Thomas Flowers fumbled the ensuing kick while fighting for extra yardage. The Tigers recovered at Georgia’s 30-yard line and scored on the next play as wide receiver Ben Obamanu took an end around down the left sideline to score with 8:21 left in the third quarter.
Auburn looked like the team with more to play for on the opening drive. The Tigers started the first drive of the game at their 8-yard line and pounded the ball down Georgia’s throat on a 13-play touchdown drive. Irons, who had 50 of the yards on the drive, scored on a 30-yard run to give the Tigers a 7-0 lead with 9:45 remaining.
Georgia erased that lead with a 49-yard Brandon Coutu field goal and a 4-yard touchdown pass from Shockley to tight end Leonard Pope. The Bulldogs led 10-7 after the first quarter despite having just 3:43 in time of possession to Auburn’s 11:17.
“Our players fought hard,” Richt said. “It was an awesome game. I was proud of the efffor t of our team.”