0

Georgia 42, Georgia Tech 34: Blair's blunder costs Jackets vs. Bulldogs

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

ATHENS -- In a game filled with mistakes, no one had a bigger blunder than Scott Blair.

On the most routine play of all.

Blair missed a tying extra point with less than 5 minutes to go and Georgia held on for the win it needed to become bowl eligible, beating Georgia Tech 42-34 on Saturday night.

Justin Houston returned a fumble for a touchdown and sealed the victory with the first interception of his life, but this one will be remembered for Blair's miscue on a chip-shot kick that is usually taken for granted. He yanked it wide left, leaving Georgia with a one-point lead, and Washaun Ealey tacked on an uncontested touchdown when the Yellow Jackets just wanted to get their offense back on the field for one more shot.

"I saw it hook a little, but I didn't know he missed it," Georgia star A.J. Green said. "When I saw the ref waving his arms, I was like, 'Oh yes!' That really cost them the game."

Perhaps it was only appropriate that the game was essentially decided on a mistake. There were plenty of them all around: four fumbles by each team, five of them resulting in turnovers, including the one that Houston brought back 18 yards for a TD to give Georgia a seemingly comfortable 35-21 lead late in the third quarter.

The Bulldogs (6-6) held on to win a close one for the first time this season, possibly locking up a trip to the Liberty Bowl, which sent officials to scout the game.

"It would have been sickening to be 5-7 right now and have it just be over," said Georgia coach Mark Richt, who desperately needed the win to bolster his standing with disgruntled boosters. "That would have been tough. I'm glad we're not dealing with that right now."

Georgia's Aaron Murray threw for three touchdowns, but this one was a comedy of errors that surely wasn't very funny to fans of either team, both finishing disappointing seasons.

"There were a lot of mistakes, a lot of turnovers," Murray said. "It got a little sloppy out there. I'm just happy we came out on top."

The only solace for Georgia Tech (6-6), and this isn't much, is that they had locked up eligibility for their 14th straight bowl appearance the week before. The Yellow Jackets might be headed to the Independence Bowl, which has the seventh pick among Atlantic Coast Conference schools and had scouts at the game.

Blair wasn't made available afterward, but coach Paul Johnson defended a player who had been one of the most reliable in an inconsistent year. The senior made 77 straight PATs before he yanked one left after Anthony Allen bulled into the end zone for an 8-yard touchdown run with 4:57 remaining.

"He's been great all year," Johnson said. "That game didn't hinge on that play. There's a lot of plays. Don't put that on that kid. There's a lot of plays. Scott Blair has won a lot of games for us."

Ealey scampered into the end zone from 20 yards out with 1:29 left while the Georgia Tech defense stood around, making no attempt to stop him. That at least gave the Yellow Jackets hope.

Tevin Washington, starting his third straight game in place of injured Joshua Nesbitt, guided Georgia Tech across midfield in the final minute. But Houston finished off a huge game with one last big play, surprising Washington by dropping back into pass coverage. He intercepted the pass over the middle with 35 seconds left to seal Georgia's second straight win and ninth in 10 years against its state rival.

"I've been playing since middle school, and that's the first interception of my life," said Houston, an outside linebacker in Georgia's 3-4 scheme whose main job is getting pressure on the quarterback. "That's something I'll always remember."

Anthony Allen rushed for 166 yards to lead Georgia Tech, which ran a staggering 92 plays for 512 yards and controlled the ball for more than 38 minutes. But too many mistakes doomed the Yellow Jackets, who lost three fumbles -- each of which were followed by Georgia touchdowns.

Georgia hardly had a clean game, muffing the opening kickoff to give the ball immediately to the Yellow Jackets and fumbling four times, two of which were recovered by the Yellow Jackets.

In fact, both teams lost fumbles inside the opponent's 10-yard line.

Murray, who sustained a bruised knee and sternum in a loss to Auburn two weeks ago, had an off week to recover and showed no signs he was hurting. He was 15 of 19 for 271 yards, including touchdowns of 66 yards to Kris Durham and 32 yards to Orson Charles, giving Georgia a quick 14-0 lead.

After Georgia Tech rallied with TD runs by Washington and Roddy Jones, Murray hooked up with Bruce Figgins for a 3-yard touchdown that left the Bulldogs ahead 21-14 at halftime.

Georgia Tech, which rushed for 411 yards, came out throwing on the opening possession of the second half. Washington completed a 44-yard pass to Stephen Hill and Embry Peeples finished off the drive with a 19-yard touchdown run that tied the score again.

Ealey scored the first of his two touchdowns, running it in from the 1 on fourth down in the final minute of the third quarter.

Just 35 seconds later, the Bulldogs were celebrating again.

Washington pitched to Jones, who was hammered by Akeem Dent as the ball popped loose. Houston scooped it up and dove into the end zone with Washington holding on, putting Georgia up 35-21.

"The pitch man didn't even have time to look at the ball before Akeem hit him," said Houston, a finalist for the Nagurski and Butkus awards. "It was just laying there, so I scooped it up and scored."

Back came the Yellow Jackets. Washington guided a 71-yard drive that ended with the sophomore quarterback running it in for his second 1-yard TD of the game. After Georgia went three-and-out, Georgia Tech marched right back down the field for Allen's score.

But Blair failed to tie it up. As the kick sailed wide of the left upright, he put his hands on his helmet in disbelief.

"That one," Johnson began, "was a heartbreaker."