Originally created 11/30/03

Georgia is headed back to the Dome



ATLANTA - Shortly after the clock struck zero Saturday, Georgia defensive lineman Ken Veal stopped and performed an impromptu dance in front of a throng of Bulldogs fans in the southeast corner of Bobby Dodd Stadium.

Veal's team had just sucker punched Georgia Tech, 34-17, in front of 55,000 fans. If the No. 5 Bulldogs have their way, they'll be dancing again this Saturday - same city, different place.

"I feel like we've done all we can do," said linebacker Arnold Harrison, a former Josey High star. "We've got a strong case for the SEC Championship. I think we'll be back."

Georgia all but wrapped up the Southeastern Conference's Eastern Division by beating Georgia Tech for the third straight time. Tennessee helped by beating Kentucky, 20-7, then Florida State did the Bulldogs a huge favor with a dramatic 38-34 triumph at Florida.

The Bulldogs, Gators and Volunteers finished in a three-way tie atop the SEC East. The only way the Bulldogs (10-2) can be denied a second straight trip to Atlanta for the SEC title game is if the Gators jump over Tennessee in the Bowl Championship Series standings - which will be released Monday evening.

The chances of that happening are virtually impossible, so the Bulldogs went to bed Saturday night believing they'll face No. 3 Louisiana State on Saturday at the Georgia Dome. At stake will be their second straight conference title; Georgia broke a 20-year championship drought last year with a 30-3 rout of Arkansas in the league title game.

The game will also serve as a rematch against the Tigers, who beat the Bulldogs 17-10 on Sept. 20 in Baton Rouge, La.

"We're very eager to get another shot at LSU," said Georgia safety Thomas Davis, whose team amassed 401 total yards against a team that was giving up 336.

It was the Bulldogs' 10th win over the Yellow Jackets in the past 13 years. Since losing three straight in the series from 1998 to 2000, Georgia has beaten its rival by a combined score of 116-41.

The Yellow Jackets (6-6) were flying high the first week of November, winning their fourth straight game to improve their record to a surprising 5-3. They closed the season with three losses in their last four games and are a good candidate for the Humanitarian Bowl in Boise, Idaho.

"The bottom line is we made too many mistakes to win the ball game," said Georgia Tech coach Chan Gailey, whose team committed four turnovers and had a punt blocked.

Late in the first half, after Yellow Jackets quarterback Reggie Ball went out with what team officials described as a concussion, Gailey went with senior A.J. Suggs - a player with experience, but one who hadn't taken a snap all season.

Suggs finished with 175 yards passing, two touchdowns and two interceptions on a 13-for-22 clip.

"I'm not exactly sure what happened to him," Suggs said of Ball, who passed for 80 yards and rushed for 49. "He was in the training room the whole halftime. Nobody ever came in and told us what exactly was going on. They just told me that I was going in."

The game turned late in the first quarter, after Georgia offensive lineman Nick Jones recovered a fumble by David Greene in the end zone to give the Bulldogs a 7-0 lead with 6:28 remaining.

After Georgia Tech went three-and-out on the next possession, Andy Thomson trotted onto the field for a routine punt.

Problem was, the left side of the Yellow Jackets' line forgot how to block. Bryan McClendon and Bruce Thornton ran unimpeded toward Thomson, and McClendon blocked the kick.

Georgia took over at Georgia Tech's 13-yard line. On the first play, tailback Kregg Lumpkin used a gaping hole on the left side of the line and ran untouched for a touchdown that gave the Bulldogs a two-touchdown lead.

On the next possession, the Yellow Jackets drove from their 22-yard line to Georgia's 2 but had to settle for a Dan Burnett field goal. The Bulldogs responded with a 49-yard field goal by Billy Bennett that made the score 17-3, and the Yellow Jackets never got closer.

The game was highly emotional for both teams, which combined for eight personal foul penalties.

"Being neighbors, sometimes it gets a little heated," Veal said.

But Veal and the Bulldogs were in no mood for fighting after Saturday's game. If all goes according to their plan, they'll be dancing in Atlanta again this week.

"Now I guess we've got to wait around a little while and see if we get to come back," Georgia coach Mark Richt said.

Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645 or larry.williams@augustachronicle.com