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November 24, 2007
ATLANTA — Georgia was winning its game when coach Mark Richt got some news that made him think it was going to be a perfect day.
Turns out, that was one thing that didn't go the Bulldogs' way.
No. 6 Georgia stretched its winning streak over Georgia Tech to seven Saturday, seeming to get every break in a 31-17 victory. But the joy of keeping its state championship was somewhat tempered by the news from Lexington, Ky.
Late in the third quarter, the Bulldogs (10-2) learned that Tennessee beat Kentucky 52-50 in four overtimes, sending the Volunteers to the Southeastern Conference championship game instead of Georgia.
Tennessee's victory was especially tough to take because Richt and at least some of his players first heard an erroneous report that Kentucky had won, which would have given the Bulldogs the SEC East title outright. Instead, Tennessee won the tiebreaker.
"I went into the tank slightly," Richt conceded. "It would have been better if Tennessee had just won it outright. I spent 20 or 30 minutes thinking we were coming back to Atlanta next week. It kind of hurt my feelings a little bit."
But the Bulldogs won't spent too much time in the dumps. They closed the regular season with a six-game winning streak and are a likely contender for an at-large bid to one of the BCS bowls.
Sensing that, Georgia fans threw oranges on the field after locking up another victory over the Yellow Jackets (7-5).
"Right now, I think we're playing the best of anyone in the country," receiver Sean Bailey said. "Unfortunately, we had a couple of slip-ups."
They didn't slip up against Georgia Tech, which hasn't beaten its state rival since 2000 and may have played its final game for embattled coach Chan Gailey. His future is very much in doubt after a disappointing season ended with his sixth straight loss to the Bulldogs.
Asked if he expected to return, Gailey said, "I'm not in charge of that. My job is to do the best job I can do."
Stafford caught Georgia Tech off guard by running for a 31-yard touchdown in the second quarter, one of four lead changes in the first half. The last of those came with 1:02 left in the second quarter, when Stafford hooked up with Mohamed Massaquoi on a 9-yard touchdown that sent the Bulldogs to the locker room up 16-14.
There would be no more lead changes. Brannan Southerland powered over from the 3 after Stafford threw 55 yards to Sean Bailey. Brown finished off the Yellow Jackets with his long run around right end.
A 2-point conversion provided the final margin, the first time in four years the game wasn't decided in the closing minutes.
The winning streak over the Yellow Jackets is Georgia's longest in the bitter rivalry and just one shy of Georgia Tech's eight-win run from 1949-56, the longest by either team.
When the public address announcer announced Tennessee's dramatic victory, the Georgia Tech fans cheered. If nothing else, they could take some satisfaction from knowing the Bulldogs wouldn't get a return trip to Atlanta.
Otherwise, it was another forgettable day in late November for the Yellow Jackets, who let numerous chances slip through their hands, were hurt by a disputed interference penalty, and simply couldn't catch a break.
The Bulldogs muffed a couple of punts that rolled free in the end zone, which would have been touchdowns if the home team had recovered. Georgia fell on both, resulting in touchbacks.
Georgia Tech appeared on the verge of grabbing the lead in the third quarter when a botched lateral pass was scooped up by Morgan Burnett, who scampered toward the end zone. But running back Knowshon Moreno hustled after Burnett, chopping the ball away from the freshman at the Georgia 3. It rolled through the end zone for yet another touchback.
"Those three plays could have been catastrophic," Richt said. "All three went our way. That was a huge, huge part of the game. If we give up a touchdown or two, I'm not sure we would have been resilient enough to come back and win it."
A big call by the officials also went against the Yellow Jackets late in the first half. Burnett was called for interference on an incomplete pass in the end zone, though any contact with Massaquoi appeared to be incidental on television replays.
With first-and-goal at the 9, Stafford threw to Massaquoi across the middle for the go-ahead touchdown on the very next play. Backup kicker Andy Bailey missed the extra point, but Georgia had a lead it wouldn't relinquish.
The regular kicker, Brandon Coutu, went out with a hamstring injury.
Georgia Tech couldn't blame the officials for what happened on its very first possession. Bennett went deep to Correy Earls, who slipped behind cornerback Asher Allen but dropped a sure touchdown pass down the left sideline.
"Not catching a pass here, not recovering a fumble there," Gailey said. "Those things make you lose ballgames when you're playing a team like Georgia."