ATHENS—What appeared to be one of the greatest moments ever for Georgia against rival Georgia Tech, quickly turned into a disappointing, heart-breaking loss for the 8th-ranked Bulldogs, ending yet another disappointing regular season for head coach Mark Richt.Georgia (9-3) seemingly scored the game-winning touchdown on a 3-yard, fourth-down reception by Malcolm Mitchell from Hutson Mason, giving the Bulldogs a 24-21 lead over the 16th-ranked Yellow Jackets with just 18 seconds remaining in regulation. However, Georgia then inexplicably elected to squib the ensuing kickoff after performing well on kickoff coverage the entire game. After a 16-yard return of the short kickoff, Georgia Tech (10-2) possessed the ball at its own 43-yard line with 13 seconds left.”I’m disappointed in my decision to squib kick,” Richt said following what eventually ended in a 30-24 win by Georgia Tech in overtime. “That was a poor decision on my part. That was no one’s decision but mine.”After a 21-yard scramble out of bounds to the Bulldogs’ 36-yard line by Tech quarterback Justin Thomas, placekicker Harrison Butker made a 53-yard field goal with no time remaining to tie the game, 24-24.
In overtime, the Yellow Jackets’ offense executed exactly what it had done for most of the game: run the ball right down Georgia’s throat. Georgia Tech covered 25 yards in five rushes, capped by a 2-yard touchdown run up the middle by Zach Laskey. For the game, Laskey rushed for 140 yards and three touchdowns on 26 carries.
After Butker’s PAT attempt was blocked by Ray Drew—the Georgia defensive lineman’s second blocked placekick of the game—it was the Bulldog offense’s turn in overtime, needing a touchdown and successful PAT to reclaim a victory which had been snatched from them only moments before.
Georgia moved to Tech’s 9-yard line in four plays; however, facing second down, Mason threw into coverage and his pass was corralled by cornerback D.J. White. The game-winning interception gave the Yellow Jackets, who entered the game as 10.5-point underdogs, an upset, 30-24 win.
“It was a slant route and the guy jumped it,” Richt said of White’s interception. “[White] did a good job of undercutting it.”
For Richt, the loss was only his second setback to Georgia Tech in 14 games as Georgia’s head coach. For Mason, his errant throw was the final pass attempt in Sanford Stadium for the fifth-year senior, who completed 18 of 28 passes for 194 yards and a touchdown in the losing effort.
To begin the game, Mason and the offense took the opening kickoff and made things look easy, zipping down the field in 10 plays for 75 yards in just over four minutes. Nick Chubb’s 1-yard touchdown run gave the Bulldogs an early 7-0 lead. Chubb would finish with 129 yards on 25 carries.
On the Yellow Jackets first three offensive possessions of the game, they punted twice and had a field goal blocked by Drew. However, following their touchdown, the Bulldogs couldn’t capitalize on opportunities–first, Chubb lost a fumble on Tech’s 3-yard line, and then Michel fumbled into the Tech end zone for a touchback.
What perhaps could have been a 21-0 lead for Georgia late in the second quarter, was instead merely a 7-0 advantage.
Early in the week, Richt was adamant that his team was “very focused on this game.” But, any “focus” on Georgia Tech was seemingly not evident for most of this afternoon, making one wonder if the squad was more focused on yesterday when a win by Missouri over Arkansas knocked Georgia out of the SEC Championship Game.
From late in the first quarter through late in the fourth, five of Georgia Tech’s six offensive drives went for at least 60 yards while lasting for at least eight plays. A month after allowing Florida to rush for 418 yards, Georgia yielded a staggering 399 to the Yellow Jackets on 70 rushes. Tech also had a time of possession of over 36 minutes for the game.
“There aren’t a whole lot of offenses that effect you as an offense also, but [Georgia Tech]’s does,” Mason said. “They don’t give you too many possessions and you look up and half the quarter is gone. Against something like that you have to take advantage of opportunities and turn them into touchdowns instead of field goals.”
Midway through the third quarter with the score tied 7-7, Georgia finally caught a break when cornerback Damian Swann forced Thomas to fumble on the Bulldogs’ 1-yard line. Swann then picked up the loose ball and raced 99 yards for a touchdown. Still, Georgia squandered opportunities by later having a field goal blocked and following a run on a fake field goal gave the Bulldogs’ a first-and-goal at Tech’s 3-yard line, having to settle for a short field goal.
Georgia Tech took its first lead with 4:22 left in regulation when a touchdown run by Laskey put the Jackets up, 21-17. After the Bulldogs misplayed the ensuing kickoff, giving Georgia Tech the ball at the Bulldogs’ 27-yard line, the Yellow Jackets lost a fumble five plays later.
From his own 31-yard line, Mason drove Georgia 69 yards in 12 plays for the apparent game-winning touchdown, but any victory celebration by the Bulldogs would be very short-lived.
“We didn’t capitalize,” Swann said following the game. “We had opportunities but we didn’t capitalize on them. We don’t lose to them. We aren’t supposed to lose to them, so it hurts.”
Finishing with a 9-3 regular-season record, Georgia wasn’t “supposed to lose” to any of the three teams which defeated the Bulldogs—South Carolina, Florida, and now Georgia Tech—all of which were substantial underdogs to the Bulldogs by a touchdown or more. And, for the third time this season, the inconsistent Bulldogs didn’t fully capitalize on opportunities, costing them a memorable victory over their intrastate rival, while ending their regular season in disappointment.