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November 25, 2006

Stafford lifts Georgia over Georgia Tech

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ATHENS, Ga. — Georgia Tech can still win the Atlantic Coast Conference championship, but the Yellow Jackets will have to wait an agonizing year for another shot at their biggest rival.

Georgia's Matthew Stafford threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Mohamed Massaquoi with 1:45 remaining, leading the Bulldogs past No. 16 Georgia Tech 15-12 on Saturday - their sixth straight win against the Yellow Jackets.

This one was especially galling for Georgia Tech (9-3), which already had clinched a spot in next Saturday's ACC championship game. But quarterback Reggie Ball had a miserable game, completing just 6-of-22 passes for 42 yards with two interceptions.

Most damaging, Ball also had a fumble that Georgia (8-4) ran back for its first touchdown, a play that appeared over until linebacker Tony Taylor snatched the ball from a pile of players and took off the other way for 29 yards.

Tashard Choice, who rushed for 146 yards, put Georgia Tech ahead 13-12 on a 10-yard touchdown with 8:50 remaining. But Stafford, a freshman also having a tough day, directed a gutsy 64-yard drive for Georgia's first offensive score of the game.

It was all the Bulldogs needed.

On third-and-goal from the 4, Stafford fooled the defense with a pump fake and hooked up with Massaquoi, who slipped free over the middle. The Bulldogs made the 2-point conversion, then Paul Oliver finished off Ball's awful career against Georgia with an interception.

Georgia lost four of five at one point this season, ruining any hope of repeating as Southeastern Conference champion.

But the season sure turned around in the final two games of the regular season. The Bulldogs knocked off then-No. 5 Auburn 37-15 two weeks ago, then kept up their domination of the Yellow Jackets, who haven't beaten their state rival since Mark Richt took over as Georgia coach in 2001.

Ball has been the Yellow Jackets' quarterback for the last four losses - and three of them were especially painful. He lost track on the downs on a late drive in 2004, allowing Georgia to hold on for a 19-13 win, then threw an interception at the goal line with just over a minute remaining in last year's 14-7 loss to the Bulldogs.

Now this, perhaps the worst performance of his career in his final shot at the Bulldogs.

Both teams were dismal on offense for much of the game. Georgia Tech's star receiver, Calvin Johnson, managed just two catches for 13 yards.

Early in the second quarter, Stafford handed Georgia Tech its first points by fumbling a snap, which was recovered by Philip Wheeler at the Bulldogs 13. The Yellow Jackets went backward from there, losing 5 yards, but Travis Bell booted a 35-yard field goal.

It was still 3-0 late in the third when Taylor changed the entire tone of the game. With Ball attempting to scramble on third-and-15, Marcus Howard knocked the ball away with a hit from behind. It wound up under a pile of players while everyone else stood around, wondering who had recovered.

Everyone but Taylor, that is. He ripped the ball out from under someone's legs, then took off. The Yellow Jackets stood around in disbelief as the Georgia linebacker rumbled all alone toward the end zone, diving over at the end of the play to draw a personal foul for excessive celebration.

But the TD stood after the replay confirmed that no one had control of the ball.

On the ensuing kickoff, Georgia Tech's Jamaal Evans broke free for a 53-yard return and the Yellow Jackets drove for first-and-goal at the Georgia 4. Oliver knocked away a couple of throws for Johnson in the end zone, forcing the Yellow Jackets to settle for Bell's 24-yard field goal.

Stafford rallied in the fourth quarter, finishing 16-of-29 for 171 yards.

For more coverage of Georgia, visit UGASports.com; for more on Georgia Tech, visit JacketsOnline.com.



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