After a 17-17 tie in regulation, the Eagles (7-3) got the ball first at the 25-yard line after Georgia won the overtime toss and opted to go on defense. Bulldog junior outside linebacker Leonard Floyd then twice threw GSU running backs for losses before Eagle quarterback Favian Upshaw then scrambled 14 yards to the Georgia 16 … within one yard of the first down marker. Now, with the Eagles facing a fourth-and-one at the spot, Georgia Southern sent L.A. Ramsby up the middle to knock out the first down and maintain possession for the Eagles. But that’s when senior linebacker Jordan Jenkins, with help from Floyd, flew into the backfield and hammered Ramsby in the backfield for a 3-yard loss.
Georgia then had its turn at bat, needing only a Marshall Morgan field goal to capture the victory but the Bulldogs didn’t need Morgan’s right foot as, on their first play of the OT, sophomore tailback Michel bolted straight up the middle and sped the 25 yards untouched for the game-winner, a score that enabled Georgia to avoid maybe one of the most inexplicable and bitter losses in its football history and one that sent a giant sigh of relief across the Bulldawg Nation.
A loss to Georgia Southern would have been the program’s first in six meetings with the Eagles and would have marked the first time since 1929 that Georgia lost to an in-state team other than Georgia Tech.
“A lot of really good things happened, but the turnovers really hurt us,” said Georgia coach Mark Richt. “We got the touchdown on our first drive and then turned it over when it looked like we might go up 10-0 or 14-0. Then early in the second half, we had it in really good shape and we fumbled and they scooped and scored to go ahead. All of a sudden, we had to really get after it,” said Richt. “We kept our poise and our composure and kept doing our jobs until the very end. I was proud of the way we finished … the defense stoned them in overtime. We got the stop on fourth down and that allowed us to get it in the end zone and finish it.”
“I’d rather play a team that’s 5-5 instead of 8-2 regardless of conference or division,” added Richt. “A team that’s used to winning is difficult to beat and that was the case tonight.”
Richt said good blocking by the Georgia offensive line was the key to Michel’s game-winning run in overtime.
“He hit the crease and he hit it full speed,” said Richt. “He split the safeties and had the speed to take it to the house. The only stat that matters is the victory. I’m really pleased with the guys. We had to grind it out until the very end. We did what we had to do to get it to overtime and win it. And it was really fun to watch our seniors,” he pointed out. “You never know how they’re going to react. They looked excited, relieved and thankful. They were thanking their teammates for making their last memory in Sanford Stadium a good one. They were all smiles and I’m proud of them.”
“It was great,” said Michel, who ran for 132 yards on 23 carries, two more than the Bulldogs’ team total of 130 yards net rushing. “They should have really just jumped on all the seniors. I want to dedicate this game to all the seniors. We just stayed to what we do best (offensively),” said Michel. “Georgia Southern has a great defense and hats off to those guys. They played a great game today.”
Georgia senior tackle/guard Kolton Houston lauded the Bulldogs’ defensive performance, which checked the Eagles option offense to 233 yards net rushing … some 145 below their FBS nation-leading rushing average of 378 per game.
“Defense has put this team on its back all season,” said Houston. “When they come through with these big stops, it really does give us a big boost of energy. We are proud that we could come through for them today.”
Jenkins and Floyd stepped up big for Jeremy Pruitt’s stop-em gang in likely both players’ final game between the hedges, with 13 and 12 tackles, respectively. Senior LB Jake Ganus rendered his usual 10 tackles despite being shaken up in a collision with teammate Dominick Sanders. Then came junior linebacker Tim Kimbrough with nine total stops.
The Bulldogs, heading for the regular season finale at Georgia Tech next weekend at 8-3, looked as if they were going to blow this one open early, driving 61 yards in seven plays to score after receiving the opening kickoff. Greyson Lambert completed three passes on the march and Isaiah McKenzie got the touchdown from 23 yards out on the jet sweep … the same play on which he scored against Auburn.
After a 58-yard punt by Brice Ramsey backed the Eagles up at their own 1-yard line and the Georgia defense forced a subsequent punt by GSU, the Bulldogs gained outstanding field position at the Eagles’ 39-yard line. They then moved down to Georgia Southern’s 24 but on the ensuing play, Lambert’s pass to a wide-open Malcolm Mitchell down the middle was coughed up by Mitchell when he was hit near the Eagle 10-yard line, Georgia Southern recovering at the 8 to prevent another Bulldog score.
Early in the second quarter the Bulldogs were to again come up short after driving once more deep into GSU territory. A 25-yard pass from Lambert to Mitchell put the ball on the Eagles’ 29 but a 2-yard loss by Brendan Douglas and two Lambert pass incompletions later, the Bulldogs had to reach for a 49-yard field goal attempt. And Morgan’s kick would sail wide right to keep the score at 7-0.
With Georgia now seeming to have an adversity of reaching the end zone, the suddenly-revived Eagles then went on a 69-yard scoring drive to tie the game at 7-7. Keeping the ball on the ground, Georgia Southern kept the ball for well over six minutes on the march. The big play was a 24-yard scamper by Matt Breida to the Bulldogs’ 1. From there, L.A. Ramsby dived over the top for the touchdown with 3:47 until intermission and with the PAT kick, the Eagles had managed their deadlock with the Bulldogs at halftime.
As the Georgia faithful looked on in disbelief, the Eagles then grabbed their first lead of the game early in the third quarter. When McKenzie lost the handle on the ball on a sweep to the right, GSU defensive back Caleb Williams scooped it up and raced 62 yards down the left sideline to enable Georgia Southern to claim a 14-7 advantage with 12 minutes left in the third.
The Bulldogs would then need the Eagles’ first turnover of the night to bounce back and tie the game. After Kenneth Towns recovered a GSU muffed punt to give Georgia possession at the GSU 29, the running of Michel advanced the ball down to the 12, from where Lambert threw a TD strike to freshman Terry Godwin in the left corner of the end zone …. Godwin stretching out to make a sensational diving grab just inside the chalk line. Only 1:23 was left in the third quarter when Morgan’s kick tied the game at 14.
But as the game headed into the final quarter, the Eagles’ offense began attacking the edge again and drove to the Bulldogs’ 32 before bogging down. But on a fourth-and-10, Southern’s Younghoe Koo was clutch on a season-long 48-yard field goal to lift the Eagles back up 17-14, with 9:21 left on the clock. Georgia Southern took seven minutes off the clock while driving into position for Koo’s kick.
But starting at their own 25 after the ensuing kickoff, the Bulldogs would march down to the GSU 26 to set the stage for Morgan’s equally-clutch 43-yard, game-tying field goal. Michel had the key gainer of the push, a 20-yard burst, while Lambert completed passes to Mitchell and Jay Rome along the way. Morgan’s kick, which evened the count at 17-17, came with still 6:06 left to play.
And that’s the way it would stay until the overtime, as both teams failed on offensive opportunities to put the game away in regulation.
The Bulldogs thus will attempt to cap a 9-3 regular season next Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium while at the same time avenge last year’s grueling 30-24 overtime loss to the Yellow Jackets.