MURRAY POOLE’S FIFTEEN GREATEST SPORTS ASSIGNMENTS, No. 3: A Historic Play (Miracle) on the Banks of the St. Johns River

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MURRAY POOLE’S FIFTEEN GREATEST SPORTS ASSIGNMENTS, No. 3: A Historic Play (Miracle) on the Banks of the St. Johns River

Murray Poole
Murray Poole

On the late afternoon of November 8, 1980, many Georgia fans were headed to the parking lots surrounding the old Gator Bowl in Jacksonville.

After all, their Bulldogs were trailing the hated Florida Gators by 21-20 with now less than two minutes left in the game, and making the situation seem hopeless was the fact the Bulldogs were down on their own 8-yard line with both the clock and the Gator defense working against them.

It had been a great season, in fact, an unbeaten one for Georgia up to this point as Vince Dooley’s Dawgs had entered the annual Georgia-Florida skirmish with an 8-0 season record, was ranked No. 2 in the land and had defeated their eight opponents by an average score of 28-8. Yes, the UGA faithful were talking national championship as their team encountered the Gators on this day.

But now, after the Bulldogs led Florida for most of the game, the Gators had rallied to take the lead in the final five minutes and all of the University of Georgia’s 1980 championship aspirations seemed about to be dumped into the adjacent St. Johns River.

But as many in Bulldog Nation walked dejectedly toward their automobiles, they suddenly heard maybe the loudest roar ever emanating from a college football stadium.

Something dramatic had happened! Something had happened in the game’s last two minutes of play that literally rocked this old stadium to its foundation.

And today, Georgia fans worldwide can tell you what it was … arguably the biggest single play in UGA history. It was Buck Belue to Lindsay Scott on a 93-yard touchdown hookup that came with 1:03 left to play, a truly dynamic score that enabled the Bulldogs to whip the Gators 26-21, remain in the unbeaten ranks and, the following week, climb to No. 1 in the national polls … thanks to state rival Georgia Tech tying undefeated and previously top-ranked Notre Dame 3-3 that same day in Atlanta.

But, let’s go back and set the stage for the Belue-to-Scott game-winner. Sparked by sensational freshman Herschel Walker’s 72-yard touchdown gallop on the game’s third play, the Bulldogs moved to a 14-10 halftime lead on the upset-minded Gators.

In the third quarter, Georgia’s offense twice drove inside the Florida 10 but, on both excursions, the Bulldogs had to settle for Rex Robinson field goals, thus boosting their lead to 20-10.

But here came the Gators back. The Georgia lead was soon cut to two points as Florida quarterback Wayne Peace sparked Florida to not only a touchdown but also, a successful two-point conversion try. That blinked the scoreboard to 20-18, clearly signaling to all those in red and black as well as orange and blue that this was still anybody’s ballgame.

 And after an unsuccessful drive and a Bulldogs punt to the Florida 24, Peace would soon have the Gators back in Georgia territory. The Georgia defense held the Gators to a field goal, but Florida now had its first lead of the game at 21-20. The Gators found themselves with the ball again with 5:53 remaining in the game, but the Bulldogs’ now tiring defense held up once more, giving the Dawgs the ball back with only 1:35 to play.

But, as mentioned, this is where Georgia was pinned back by a Gator punt on the Bulldogs’ own 8-yard line, with hardly enough time to methodically drive the football to a goal-line that was 92 yards away.

And when, on first down, Belue was chased out of bounds for a loss of one and then fired an incomplete pass to Charles Junior on second down, things did look downright hopeless for the Georgia Bulldogs. It was now 3rd-and-11 on the 7 and as Vince Dooley would later note, the Florida players were already dancing the “Funky Chicken” on the sidelines in anticipation of spoiling their arch-rival’s season with this gigantic upset.

 Up in the press box, I had stood up from my chair and was set to head for the elevator, which always in those years took the media down to the field during the game’s final five minutes.

But, then, something told me to watch one more play.

And, there it came. Belue rolls to his right and finds his top receiver, Scott, curling across the middle of the Florida secondary. With a key block from tackle Nat Hudson, Belue hits Scott with the pass and the Jesup native heads for the East sidelines in front of the Georgia bench. As head coach Dooley runs excitedly along with him, Scott runs into Bulldog history and the record books, completing the then school-record 93-yard touchdown reception. The clock now showed 1:03 left to play, Larry Munson had broken his chair high up in the press box, and the still unbeaten Bulldogs had a 26-21 win that would propel them to the No. 1 ranking and on to the undisputed 1980 national championship.

And again, this rehashing of No. 3 on the list of My 15 Greatest Sports Assignments wouldn’t be complete without Munson’s iconic call of The Play:

“Buck back, third down on the eight. In trouble, he got a block behind him. Gotta throw on the run. Complete to the 25. To the 30. Lindsay Scott 35, 40. Lindsay Scott 45, 50, 45, 40 … Run Lindsay, 25, 20, 15, 10, 5, Lindsay Scott! Lindsay Scott! Lindsay Scott! I broke my chair. I came right through a chair. A metal steel chair with about a 5-inch cushion. I broke it. The booth came apart. The stadium, well, the stadium fell down. Now they do have to renovate this thing. They’ll have to rebuild it now.

“Do you know what is gonna happen here tonight? And up at St. Simons and Jekyll Island and all those places where all those Dawg people have got those condominiums for four days? MAN, is there gonna be some property destroyed tonight! 26 to 21, Dawgs on top! We were gone. I gave up, you did too. We were out of it and gone. Miracle!”

And what you have to remember about that historic day on the banks of the St. Johns River, the Belue-to-Scott miracle wouldn’t have been possible if a freshman tailback named Herschel hadn’t rushed for 238 yards including that early 72-yard scoring run.

Next Week in Georgia Tech issue: No. 2, Iconic Venue, Iconic Performance for Dawgs in Pasadena

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Murray Poole is a 1965 graduate of the University of Georgia Journalism School. He served as sports editor of The Brunswick News for 40 years and has written for Bulldawg Illustrated the past 16 years. He has covered the Georgia Bulldogs for 53 years.