Athens, Georgia, October 12, 2002
G 4-2 T35 Tony Milton rush for 25 yards to the UT10, 1ST DOWN UGA, out-of-bounds (K. Washington; Shannon Benton).
Quick back story that may be of interest only to me: In the fall of 2002, I was in the process of atoning for seven years of feckless heathenhood and re-entering the Catholic church, and one of the requirements was to go to confession. It so happened that the church I attended at the time only had confession at 4 p.m. on Saturdays, and while I did consider putting it off for a week so that I could see the Georgia-Tennessee game, I quickly decided that to do so would just be asking for God to punish my insolence by dealing the Bulldogs a season-killing loss. So I confessed my sins, was welcomed with open arms back into the fold, and missed the first half. ("Offer it up," as my mom always says.)
When I got home, Georgia was somehow leading 8-0 at intermission, and pushed that lead to 18-0 before taking their foot off the gas and letting Tennessee -- who, with Casey Clausen planted on the sideline due to a shoulder injury, was reduced to just throwing backup QBs at us hoping one of them would stick -- back into the game. With three and a half minutes left, wideout Derrick Tinsley tossed a TD pass to Jason Witten to bring the Vols within five, and all of a sudden a game that looked like a sure thing at the start of the fourth quarter was getting just a wee bit more nerve-wracking; Georgia recovered Tennessee's on-side kick at the UT43, but ended up facing fourth-and-2 at the Tennessee 35 with 1:43 remaining. By comparison, Tennessee's first touchdown drive had taken only 78 seconds.
A 52-yard field goal would've been dicey; a punt would've probably put the Vols at the 20 and more than enough time to go 80 yards for the winning TD. Tennessee burned a time-out to leave themselves as much time as possible, but that time-out also gave Mark Richt just enough time to grow a pair of stainless-steel balls and send Tony Milton around the left side to try to pick up the first. And sure enough, the O-line walled off Milton's route so well that Tony got all the way down to the Vols' 10 before being driven out of bounds. Three kneeldowns later, Georgia had their third straight win over Tennessee and had established themselves as the make-no-mistake team to beat in the SEC.
Had Milton not made the first down, Tennessee would've still had to beat the clock to come up with a go-ahead touchdown, but Richt's gutsy call enabled Georgia to build on the momentum of their "man enough" win over Alabama a week earlier and continue rolling toward a dream season. And the bullish confidence that Richt expressed in his guy -- the backup tailback, it should be pointed out -- was an example of the play-to-win attitude that enabled Georgia to finally "knock the lid off" the program and start winning SEC titles again. It wouldn't be the last time that confidence was demonstrated in a big way.
(By the way: If anyone has photos or YouTubes of any of these plays that they'd like to add to these, your contributions are always welcome -- just e-mail a JPEG or a link to me at heyjennyslater [dot] blog [at] gmail [dot] com. Mazel.)