Originally created 11/04/02

Georgia's party becomes a nightmare

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jon Stinchcomb slumped against a cinderblock wall in the bowels of Alltel Stadium, his eyes red and moist.

When Stinchcomb came to Georgia four years ago, he had a couple of goals in mind: win a championship and beat the Florida Gators.

The first is still alive, but on shaky ground.

The second is gone forever.

Stinchcomb and the rest of the Georgia seniors were on the receiving end of a Gator shutout. Four games. Four losses. A lifetime to think about it.

"It's a pretty tough pill to swallow," Stinchcomb said late Saturday night, clearly shaken by Florida's 20-13 upset of the no-longer-unbeaten Bulldogs.

He was asked about his left knee, the one that underwent arthroscopic surgery less than two weeks ago.

"My knee did fine," Stinchcomb replied. "My heart hurts a lot worse than my knee."

This should have been Georgia's big day.

Three other undefeated teams - Notre Dame, Virginia Tech and North Carolina State - lost for the first time, clearing the way for the Bulldogs to become a full-fledged contender in the national championship race.

There also were immediate rewards on the table. By beating Florida, Georgia would have earned its first title in 20 years (albeit a division crown). By beating Florida, Georgia would have started turning the page on the grim Steve Spurrier era.

In Spurrier's 12 years as Gators coach, his teams defeated Georgia 11 times. But Spurrier is in the NFL now, replaced by a coach, Ron Zook, deemed unworthy of the job by many of the Florida faithful.

Yes, this was going to be Georgia's big day.

"Hey, we were not looking at 11 out of 12," defensive end David Pollack said. "We were looking at clinching the SEC East and maybe getting a shot at the national title."

Georgia (8-1, 5-1 SEC) can still win the East, but the hangover from the "World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party" makes the coronation much more tenuous. The Bulldogs also slipped from fifth to seventh in The Associated Press rankings.

"First and foremost, our goal is the SEC championship because we haven't won one in 20 years," linebacker Tony Gilbert said. "Let's not get ahead of ourselves."

On a night when both teams made enough mistakes to lose, the Bulldogs saved the worst for last. Terrence Edwards, the team's most dependable receiver, broke into the clear with about 2 1/2 minutes remaining, positioning himself to catch a game-tying touchdown pass.

Everything was perfect - until Edwards let the ball slip through his hands and fall harmlessly to the turf, effectively ending Georgia's last serious threat.

"I don't know what was going through his mind," Gilbert said. "He probably thought he was too wide open."

Making matters worse, Edwards raced to the hospital after the game with his mother, Jeannette, who passed out in the stands. She regained consciousness and her son flew home with his team.

Of course, there was plenty of blame to go around.

Georgia went 0-for-13 on third down. Billy Bennett, who had missed only one field goal all season, botched two against the Gators.

Quarterbacks David Greene and D.J. Shockley - who combined for six touchdowns passes the previous week - managed only two this time: one for Georgia and one for Florida. Scott picked off a Shockley pass and took it 47 yards the other way.

"We shot ourselves in the foot all night," Greene said. "It's frustrating to lose like that."

Georgia still controls its own destiny in the SEC. The Bulldogs will go to the Dec. 7 championship game if they beat Mississippi next Saturday, then do the same to Auburn a week later.

Slip up once, however, and Florida is likely to be playing in Atlanta. The Gators (6-3, 4-2) shouldn't have any trouble with lowly Vanderbilt, will be favored at home against South Carolina and hold a tiebreaker advantage over the Bulldogs.

For Georgia, which hasn't won a championship since 1982, the noose of history got a little tighter.

"We're trying to put this loss behind us," Stinchcomb said, even as the tears revealed just how tough that was going to be. "Monday is a new day.

"Yes, this loss hurts. But we can still play for the SEC championship if we take care of our business."


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