KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - The last play, aptly named "P-44 Haynes," had Verron Haynes' name written all over it.
Georgia had run it hundreds of times in practice with this precise moment in mind: Trailing 24-20, 10 seconds on the clock, first-and-goal at the 6-yard line.
"Our main focus was to keep our poise," Haynes said. "We've been here. We've done this."
They had never done it in this setting, with 107,592 fans creating an avalanche of sound and Tennessee's defense on the other side of the ball. But the Bulldogs ran the play like they always do to claim a game they almost never win.
David Greene's play-action touchdown pass to Haynes with five seconds left gave Georgia a pulsating 26-24 triumph over the No. 6 Volunteers, the Bulldogs' first win at Neyland Stadium since 1980 and their second straight victory over Tennessee.
Every underdog has its day, and the Bulldogs had theirs in the biggest way imaginable against the Volunteers, who entered the game 11-point favorites.
"It's unreal," said Greene, a redshirt freshman who played like a senior on his visit to Knoxville. It took him five plays and 39 seconds to lead the Bulldogs to the winning score.
"It's a huge win for us. Coming off the South Carolina loss, we had to win this one if we were going to stay in it."
Haynes, a senior fullback from the Bronx, was supposed to feign a block on the middle linebacker and sneak to the checkerboard end zone. The linebacker blitzed, and no defender was within five yards of Haynes. Just like practice.
"I said, 'Thank God. Thank God he blitzed,"' Haynes said. "I just got past him, and by the grace of God I caught the ball. That was the longest five seconds, but the ball finally got there."
If the last few moments seemed like a long time to Haynes, the last 42 seconds must have seemed an eternity to the Vols (3-1, 2-1 Southeastern Conference). After Billy Bennett gave Georgia a 20-17 lead with 5:44 left, Tennessee appeared done after safety Jermaine Phillips picked off a pass by quarterback Casey Clausen with 1:53 left.
But the Vols used their three timeouts and forced Georgia into a a three-and-out, then Clausen found tailback Travis Stephens on a simple screen pass that turned into a 62-yard touchdown jaunt.
Stephens, who accounted for 254 yards rushing and receiving, dragged Phillips into the end zone with 44 seconds left to put the Vols back up 24-20.
On the sideline, Greene was trying to retain a semblance of poise. He had played well under pressure, guiding the Bulldogs 75 yards on seven plays to set up Bennett's field goal.
Now, a win that seemed virtually assured had been snatched away.
"I was trying to prepare myself for something to happen," Greene said of his thought process before Stephens' scoring reception. "I had a weird feeling in my stomach that something was going to happen."
The Vols decided against risking a long return and squibbed the kickoff, giving the Bulldogs (3-1, 2-1) the ball at Georgia's 41.
"I was kind of surprised," said Greene, who finished with a career-high 303 yards passing, two touchdowns and an interception on a 21-of-34 clip. "I figured they were going to try to kick it in the end zone."
The drive began nicely, as Greene threaded a pass to Damien Gary for a 13-yard pickup. After Greene threw incomplete to Michael Johnson, he found Randy McMichael on a seam route for a 26-yard gain.
"We knew Greene was a good quarterback," said Tennessee cornerback Andre Lott, whose team led 14-3 in the first quarter but entered halftime tied at 17. "With their new coach, they have an aggressive style."
For McMichael, it was a big catch on a day filled with them. The demonstrative tight end finished with 108 yards on six receptions, the last of which was a 14-yarder on the next play that set up a first-and-goal from Tennessee's 6.
In the aftermath of doing something former coaches Jim Donnan and Ray Goff couldn't in a combined five tries, Richt remembered something McMichael said after Georgia's win over Arkansas on Sept. 29.
"He said 'I'm in the zone,' " Richt said. "He said 'Give me the ball.' I like a guy like that. He made a couple of phenomenal catches."
The Bulldogs called their last timeout of the game after McMichael's last catch, and Richt called a play he'd been dying to call all game but saved until the end.
"There was a certain coverage that we felt had a really good shot at scoring," Richt said. "I couldn't pull the trigger in the red zone. I had a couple of opportunities to call it earlier, and I didn't do it because they were mixing so good. I didn't want to guess wrong."
Georgia 26, Tennessee 24
Who shined: Punter Jonathan Kilgo. The junior changed the face of the game in the second half by pinning Tennessee at its 1-yard line on successive possessions.
What worked: Defensive adjustments. Tennessee running back Travis Stephens rushed for 132 yards in the first half but managed just 44 after halftime.
What didn't: The short kickoff. Tennessee opted for a squib kick after going up 24-20, but the move backfired as the Bulldogs had to drive just 59 yards for the winning score.
What's next: Georgia plays at Vanderbilt on Saturday at 2 p.m.
Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645 or email@example.com.
© 2017. All Rights Reserved. | Contact Us