ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — Georgia Tech’s players danced on the “G” in the middle of Sanford Stadium, snapped off keepsake twigs from the storied hedges surrounding the field and frolicked with their band and a small contingent of gold-clad fans.
After 13 mostly frustrating years against their biggest rival — and having survived a game filled with bizarre plays — the No. 16 Yellow Jackets weren’t going to shortchange this celebration.
Harrison Butker kicked a career-long 53-yard field goal on the final play of regulation Saturday, and D.J. White picked off a pass in overtime to preserve Georgia Tech’s 30-24 victory over No. 8 Georgia.
“What a game!” Yellow Jackets coach Paul Johnson declared.
What an understatement.
The rivals combined for three fumbles at the 1-yard line and three blocked kicks. Georgia pulled off a fake field goal, while Georgia Tech recovered a botched kickoff.
“We played our hearts out,” said Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason, a fifth-year senior whose final pass between the hedges went to the wrong team. “I guess you’ve just got to credit Tech. They found a way to win.”
Georgia Tech (10-2, No. 16 CFP) trailed 24-21 after Mason’s 3-yard touchdown pass to Malcolm Mitchell on fourth-and-goal with 18 seconds left. But the Yellow Jackets wound up with good field position after a squib kickoff, Justin Thomas had time to scramble 21 yards into field goal range, and Butker’s kick barely cleared the crossbar.
Zach Laskey put Georgia Tech ahead with his third touchdown run of the game in overtime, but it looked as though the Bulldogs (9-3, No. 9 CFP) would still pull it out after Butker’s supposedly routine extra point was blocked by Ray Drew.
The Bulldogs had second-and-goal at the 9 when Mason faked a handoff and tried to hit Mitchell again on a quick slant.
This time, White stepped in to make the interception, setting off a wild celebration for the visiting team.
“I have a lot of respect for Georgia’s program,” said Johnson, savoring the Yellow Jackets’ first win over Georgia since 2008 and only the second in the last 14 seasons. “That makes it even that much more impressive for us to be able to come in here and get a win.”
Georgia fumbled twice at the Georgia Tech 1, but the Bulldogs snatched the ball away from Thomas at their own 1. Cornerback Damian Swann took that one 99 yards the other way for a touchdown, the longest fumble return in Bulldogs history.
Each team blocked a field goal, and Georgia kicker Marshall Morgan nearly took a fake field goal all the way to the end zone. Georgia Tech looked to be in position to clinch the victory after Georgia failed to cover a short kickoff, allowing the Yellow Jackets to recover deep in Bulldogs territory with just over 4 minutes remaining.
But Thomas made another huge mistake, losing control of the ball as he attempted to pump fake on a scramble. Georgia recovered and drove for the go-ahead touchdown.
Thomas and the Yellow Jackets weren’t done.
“We had to move on,” he said. “We did that and came out on top.”
Georgia, which had been eliminated from a shot at playing in the Southeastern Conference championship game a day earlier when No. 17 Missouri rallied to beat Arkansas 21-14, walked off the field in a daze after another stunning setback.
This loss may cost the Bulldogs a shot at playing in a major bowl such as the Peach.
For Georgia Tech, which will face top-ranked Florida State in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game next week and could be headed to the Orange Bowl, the victory made up for a double-overtime loss to Georgia a year ago — after the Yellow Jackets squandered a 20-0 lead.
“We kind of felt like we had them where we wanted,” Laskey recalled. “So this year it was special, especially for the seniors.”
Laskey rushed for 140 yards on 26 carries, scoring on runs of 4, 8 and 2 yards. Darren Waller hauled in the Yellow Jackets’ other TD on a 7-yard pass from Thomas.
Georgia freshman Nick Chubb had his seventh straight 100-yard game, most of those filling in for star running back Todd Gurley. But Chubb was largely shut down after halftime, gaining only 12 of his 129 yards over the final two quarters and overtime.
Mason was 18 of 28 for 194 yards. His touchdown pass to Mitchell appeared to be the game-winner, but the fifth-year senior walked numbly off the field after his final throw at Sanford Stadium.
“I thought for a second it might be the sweetest way to write the story,” Mason said. “But it didn’t happen.”
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963
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