ATHENS, Ga.—On the same day The Citadel upset South Carolina, and four-touchdown-underdog Florida Atlantic nearly beat eighth-ranked Florida before falling in overtime, another SEC East school, the Georgia Bulldogs, stared defeat in the face tonight against lower-tier Georgia Southern before escaping with a 23-17 overtime victory.
On Georgia’s Senior Night, where 30 seniors made their last appearance in front of a home crowd, the Bulldogs needed just one play in the extra frame to seize the win. With the score tied at 17-all, sophomore tailback Sony Michel took a handoff from Georgia Southern’s 25-yard line and streaked essentially untouched for the game-winning score, whereupon his teammates celebrated by mobbing him in the end zone.
“They should have really just jumped on all the seniors,” Michel said of his celebratory teammates. “I want to dedicate this game to all the seniors.” Recording his third 100-yard rushing performance in Georgia’s last six games, Michel rushed for a game-high 132 yards on 23 carries, while adding two receptions.
The Bulldogs took the opening kickoff and marched 61 yards in seven plays, capped by a 23-yard touchdown run by receiver Isaiah McKenzie. After stopping the Eagles’ vaunted option offensive attack with consecutive three-and-outs, Georgia was on the move again before receiver Malcolm Mitchell fumbled inside Georgia Southern’s 10-yard line. At this point late in the opening quarter, the momentum totally swung in favor of the visiting Eagles.
“A lot of really good things happened,” Georgia head coach Mark Richt said following the win. “But, the turnovers really hurt us.”
Looking to extend Georgia’s lead to 10-0, placekicker Marshall Morgan missed a 48-yard field goal early in the second quarter. Following the miss, the Eagles promptly drove 69 yards in 11 plays, burning 6:30 off the clock, to a 1-yard touchdown run by running back L.A. Ramsby.
Including Ramsby, Georgia Southern had four backs rush for at least 36 yards each. For the game, the Eagles rushed for 233 yards—nearly 150 yards lower than their season average—while averaging 4.4 yards per carry, or almost two-and-a-half yards fewer than what they had been averaging entering the game.
With the score tied 7-7 early in the second half, the Bulldogs had great position on GSU’s 34-yard line—that is, until a fumble by McKenzie was scooped up by cornerback Caleb Williams and returned 62 yards for a touchdown.
Trailing 14-7, the Bulldogs were forced to punt on consecutive possessions; however, the Eagles muffed the second kick, which Georgia recovered on the opposing 29-yard line. Six plays later, quarterback Greyson Lambert passed to freshman receiver Terry Godwin, who made an unbelievable, diving 12-yard touchdown reception, tying the score at 14-all. For the game, Lambert completed a respectable 16 of 25 passes for 183 yards and was not intercepted.
“My hats off to Georgia Southern,” Lambert said following the game. “It took us 60 minutes plus to handle them. At the end of the day, a win is a win and that’s what we did tonight.”
But, as Lambert indicated, the win would not come easy—far from it.
After the Lambert-to-Godwin touchdown, GSU placekicker Younghoe Koo and Georgia’s Morgan traded field goals—both successful from 40+ yards out. With the score tied again, the final four possessions of regulation resulted in no points and, for just the second time for the Bulldogs in 20 seasons since overtime was implemented, Sanford Stadium hosted an overtime affair.
In the first phase of the initial overtime period, the Eagles gained nine yards in three plays and were faced with a 4th-and-1 on Georgia’s 16-yard line. Attempting to gain a first down up the middle, Ramsby was stopped cold by Bulldogs linebackers Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Floyd for a three-yard loss, turning the ball over on downs.
“The defense stoned [GSU] in overtime,” Richt said. “We got the stop on fourth down and that allowed us to get it in the end zone and finish it.”
And, finish it Michel and his teammates did, finally turning away the upset-minded Eagles.