Deja vu all over again
Georgia, Virginia meet in rematch of '95 Peach Bowl
Posted: Wednesday December 30, 1998 06:41 PM
ATLANTA (AP) -- It doesn't take much of an imagination to see Virginia and Georgia playing on New Year's Day.
Instead, the schools are matched for the second time in four seasons at the Peach Bowl, which is grateful to have a pair of ranked teams for the first time in the game's 31-year history.
No. 14 Virginia and the 19th-ranked Bulldogs will meet Thursday at the Georgia Dome before a sellout crowd of more than 71,000.
"There's a sense of being very, very excited to be where we are," Georgia safety Kirby Smart said. "But we also had hopes this would be bigger season."
It would have been except for a 21-19 loss to Georgia Tech in the final regular-season game, when the Bulldogs squandered a 12-point, fourth-quarter lead on their home field.
So much for that second straight New Year's Day game.
Of course, Georgia won't get much sympathy from Virginia, which suffered its own grating loss to Tech in October. The Cavaliers blew a 21-point lead in the second half and were beaten 41-38, costing them a share of the Atlantic Coast Conference title and a dip in the postseason pecking order.
"I try not to reflect on the past. I try to move on," Cavs quarterback Aaron Brooks said. "I'm trying to keep the focus on Georgia."
The Peach Bowl landed a rematch of its thrilling 1995 game, when Demetrius Allen returned a kickoff for a touchdown with less than a minute left to give Virginia a 34-27 victory over Georgia.
While both teams can ponder what might have been this season, they can't be too disappointed with what they got.
Virginia (9-2) was shut out of the bowls altogether last season, while the Bulldogs (8-3) had a better year than many expected after losing their leading rusher, passer and receiver from the 1997 team that won 10 games, including the Outback Bowl.
"I think this was a turnaround year for us," Georgia coach Jim Donnan said. "We made sure we didn't take a step backward after last year. We didn't go real forward, but to go 8-3 with the teams we lost to [Tennessee, Florida and Georgia Tech] is pretty good."
Besides, the Peach Bowl provides one of the most intriguing individual matchups of the bowl season -- Georgia offensive tackle Matt Stinchcomb vs. Virginia defensive end Patrick Kerney.
Stinchcomb, a 6-foot-6, 291-pound senior, graded at over 90 percent in every game he played and was a finalist for the Lombardi Award. He seems certain to be a first-round pick in the NFL draft.
"He's as athletic an offensive lineman as I've seen in my four years," said Kerney, a 6-6, 265-pound senior. "He's got the quick feet of a defensive end, really. He's got big, long arms. I can see why he's an All-American."
Kerney, who came to Virginia on a lacrosse scholarship but quickly gave up that sport, tied Chris Slade's school record of 15 sacks and was a finalist for the Nagurski Award as the top defensive player in the country, losing to Georgia's Champ Bailey.
Kerney also was edged out for the ACC's defensive player of the year award by teammate Anthony Poindexter, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in an October 24 victory over North Carolina State.
"After Anthony was hurt, we knew that everybody had to pick up their game to another level or we were going to be in trouble," Kerney said. "I think we did a good job of that."
The Bulldogs are likely playing their final game with Bailey, the two-way phenomenon who took part in more than 100 plays in six of the last seven games.
Only a junior, he was the team's second-leading receiver (47 catches) and an All-American at cornerback, leading most to speculate that he'll give up his final season of college eligibility. Bailey said he'll start considering his options "right after the game."
Donnan is virtually certain what the outcome will be.
"We'll have a meeting with Champ and his mother after the bowl game, but I would pretty much think this is going to be his last game," the Georgia coach said.
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