The dream lives
Georgia escapes Auburn for first trip to SEC title gamePosted: Saturday November 16, 2002 7:43 PM
Updated: Saturday November 16, 2002 9:33 PM
AUBURN, Ala. (AP) -- Michael Johnson went up for the ball and Georgia hasn't come down yet.
David Greene threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to a leaping Johnson on fourth and long with 1:25 left to help the seventh-ranked Bulldogs defeat No. 24 Auburn 24-21 Saturday, giving them their first SEC Eastern title.
"I know it's only the East, but we're champions tonight," coach Mark Richt said.
Three straight incompletions by Greene and a false-start penalty set up fourth-and-15, but Greene pump-faked, then lofted his pass into the left corner of the end zone. Johnson, subbing for an injured Terrence Edwards, outjumped former Georgia signee Horace Willis for the score.
"We lost our best receiver, then he comes out and makes one of the best catches in Georgia history," Greene said.
The play was called 70-X-Takeoff, and it launched the Bulldogs to the championship game for the first time. The Bulldogs (10-1, 7-1 SEC) earned a shot at their first league title since 1982 and ended a three-game losing streak to the Tigers (7-4, 4-3).
"We're going to Atlanta," linebacker Tony Gilbert said. "We should have been there a long, long time ago."
Auburn took over at its own 28 with 1:18 to play, and Jason Campbell quickly hit Robert Johnson over the middle for a 25-yard gain.
The Georgia defense resumed its second-half dominance after that, with a sack by Boss Bailey and two Auburn penalties leaving Auburn with a fourth-and-20. Campbell's pass to Tre Smith fell well short of the first-down marker with 19 seconds left.
Georgia players raced over to celebrate with their fans, and Edwards helped Kareem Marshall unfurl a banner proclaiming the Bulldogs champions.
Edwards also couldn't resist a dig at their biggest East rival.
"Tell those Florida Gators they don't have to play anymore," he crowed after Johnson's catch.
The Tigers, who still have title hopes in the West, slumped off the field. The only period they trailed in the game was over the final 85 seconds.
Georgia's last four victories in the series have come at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Greene finished 18-of-35 for 232 yards with an interception. Playing without Edwards (separated right shoulder) and Damien Gary (left leg injury), he passed for just 29 yards in the first half.
Johnson had caught 11 passes coming in but finished with 13 for 141 yards and the final touchdown.
Auburn led 14-3 at halftime behind Ronnie Brown's 103 yards rushing, including a 53-yard touchdown. Brown had 10 second-half carries for 21 yards, struggling after injuring his right ankle.
Quarterback Jason Campbell was 12-of-23 for 133 yards with two first-quarter interceptions, also rushing for 72 yards despite getting sacked four times. He threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Johnson and ran for a 21-yard score with 5:45 left in the third quarter for a 21-10 lead.
The Tigers went three-and-out on six straight possessions after their final score, gaining just 99 second-half yards.
"You have to give it to their defense. They won the game for them," coach Tommy Tuberville said. "We had them cornered several times, but they just came back and had the big play at the end."
The Bulldogs got to Auburn's 29-yard line on the drive prior to the game-winner before turning it over on downs.
Auburn managed to run just 22 seconds off the clock on three plays, going three-and-out for the sixth straight possession to give the ball back to Georgia at its own 41 with 1:58 left and no timeouts.
"All we had to do is control the football and it wouldn't have been close," Tuberville said.
Greene hit a leaping Fred Gibson on the left sideline for a 41-yarder before throwing three straight incompletions.
Greene, who's now 8-0 as a starter on an opponent's home field, said the mood in the huddle was surprisingly light.
"It sounds kind of weird, but the guys were calm and even laughing a little bit," he said. "We were saying, 'This is it. The whole season is in our hands. We wouldn't want it any other way.'"
The Tigers outgained the Bulldogs 233-63 in the first half for a 14-3 lead. Stinchcomb gave a fiery halftime speech, and the Bulldogs responded with touchdowns on drives of 77 and 89 yards to open the second half.
"It is the best feeling I have ever had in competition in my life," linebacker Boss Bailey said. "This is what I came to Georgia for -- to win championships."