ATLANTA—No statistic, highlight package or play-by-play call can properly illustrate how hard Georgia Tech took its double overtime loss to Georgia on Saturday. Conversely, Yellow Jacket quarterback Vad Lee’s demeanor in his post-game press conference—his red, misty eyes; his despondent stare; his faint, deflated tone—told the whole story.
It’s a story that has become all too familiar for Tech (7-6), which fell to UGA (8-5) in double overtime, 41-34, marking its 12th defeat in the last 13 contests against its cross-state rival.
“I’m all about wins,” Lee said softly. “I wanted to play hard. I wanted to win this game especially for our seniors, because I can imagine how they feel right now, not being able to beat Georgia.
“That game matters a lot here and it was special. The game was special with a great atmosphere and we really wanted to win. We really wanted to win.”
Lee, who threw for a career-high 232 yards and two touchdowns, engineered a strong air attack for the Jackets, succeeding to extents that neither himself nor Georgia expected. But it was a costly interception by the Tech sophomore with 5:43 left in regulation that gave the Bulldogs a chance to even the score—a feat they accomplished in the form of a game-tying field goal.
“[Lee] got pressure on the interception and that was the only one that I could think of that was really a poor decision,” head coach Paul Johnson said of his quarterback. “But he played very well.”
For Georgia, this clash followed a similar script of recent games, ones that had a tendency to end in heartbreaking manner.
There was an impressive comeback: Hutson Mason, making his first collegiate start under center, looked sharp, completing 22 of 36 passes for 299 yards and two TDs, and rallied the Bulldogs from a 20-0 deficit.
There was a dominating performance: Todd Gurley scored four total touchdowns—three on the ground, one through the air and two in overtime—providing Georgia with the electrifying playmaker they desperately needed.
However, unlike its losses to Clemson, Vanderbilt and Auburn, it was the Bulldogs who executed when it mattered most, scoring consecutive touchdowns in overtime and stymieing the Jacket offense in the second overtime round to seal the victory.
“It’s a little bit of redemption for the way the Auburn game ended to have this win,” said Georgia wide receiver Michael Bennett. “We were down 20 against Auburn and we were down 20 tonight and we came back. To see our team come back the way it did was just amazing.
“We knew we could do it; we just needed to execute.”
Execute they did, particularly Mason. While he began the night a little shaky, he came into his own in the waning moments of the first half, leading his offense down the field and firing a 9-yard touchdown pass with just 0:34 remaining in the second quarter to get Georgia on the board.
That play resulted in a key momentum shift, as Georgia would put up the first 10 points of the second half.
The Bulldogs undoubtedly missed the leadership of the injured Aaron Murray, but Mason filled that void admirably.
“This is what it’s all about,” said Mason. “All those times when I thought about transferring and sitting and talking with Coach Richt in his office, this game, this type of game is what I dreamed of. This was the kind of game I dreamed of being a part of.”
While this season will ultimately go down as a disappointment for Georgia, Saturday’s triumph puts Richt’s club in line for a decent bowl matchup, giving the Bulldogs a chance to end this tumultuous campaign on a high note.
The Jackets, on the other hand, will now have to pick themselves up and attempt to salvage their season with a bowl victory in a couple weeks.
“We don’t know where we’re playing,” Johnson said tersely. “We’re not thinking about that. This is going to take a couple days to get over.”
Tech will have ample time to reflect on this loss before their next game is scheduled, which will give them one last opportunity to right the ship before the year concludes.
Once the wounds heal, Johnson will begin preparations for what will be a vital contest. To lose the last two games of the year—one to their most hated adversary, the other with a bowl trophy on the line—could create problems that spill over into 2014.
“We just have to pick ourselves up,” Lee said. “We have to be better.”