Seniors DeMario Minter and Tim Jennings, intent on celebrating the victory by dousing coach Mark Richt with water, followed Richt back and forth on the sideline trying and failing to deliver the icy blow.
Finally, just before the final seconds ticked off, they found their mark. And, finally, thanks to a 45-13 win, No. 14 Georgia is SEC East champion.
“It was a long time coming,” said Richt, who won his 50th game as the Bulldogs’ coach. “I’m just thankful that we got it done, thankful and proud.”
Georgia (8-2, 6-2 SEC) had chances in its last two games to clinch the Eastern Division but lost to Florida and Auburn to set up a do-or-die game against the Wildcats (3-7, 2-5). All the suspense was gone after a sloppy first quarter, though, as the Bulldogs led 38-6 and had pulled most of their starters by the time the third quarter was through.
“I guess relief is a good word really because we had a month to do it,” said quarterback D.J. Shockley, who was 17 of 31 passing for 159 yards and four touchdowns.
Georgia will be making its third trip to the SEC Championship Game in the last four years after not qualifying in the game’s first 10 years of existence. The game will be played on Dec. 3 in the Georgia Dome, but before that, the Bulldogs will head to Atlanta to take on Georgia Tech on Nov. 26.
“We definitely have some business in Atlanta before we go to Atlanta,” Richt said.
Georgia probably will play No. 4 LSU in the conference title game. The Tigers needed to beat only Ole Miss late Saturday and Mississippi State next week to qualify for the game. If LSU stumbles, Georgia will get a rematch with Auburn.
“The East is something we wanted bad, but we still have a whole lot in front of us,” senior center Russ Tanner said. “You can’t be too high yet.”
Tanner and his classmates played their final game in Sanford Stadium on Saturday.
“We could have won it at Florida, and we could have won it against Auburn, but it’s a great feeling to win it on Senior Day,” senior defensive tackle Kedric Golston said.
Senior wide receiver Bryan McClendon celebrated by doubling his career touchdown total with two scoring catches in the third quarter. McClendon caught a 21-yarder with 6:02 left in the quarter and a 7-yarder with 1:58 left that made the score 38-6.
After that score, Richt began to clear his bench, which allowed Peach County’s A.J. Bryant to score his first collegiate touchdown by catching a 27-yard scoring pass from Joe Tereshinski III with 8:32 left in the game. It also was Tereshinski’s first career touchdown pass.
The Bulldogs outgained Kentucky 395-199 overall, and the Georgia defense bounced back from allowing 227 rushing yards to Auburn to give up just 29 on 13 carries to Kentucky’s Rafael Little, the second-leading rusher in the league.
Danny Ware led Georgia’s ground game with 71 yards on eight carries, including a 52-yard touchdown run.
Georgia didn’t give up a turnover but was 0-for-10 on third downs.
“We played good enough to be champions,” Richt said, “and that’s what it’s all about.”