Originally created 11/30/03

Blocked punt helps turn the game around



ATLANTA -- Georgia Tech coach Chan Gailey knew it immediately.

With Hal Higgins back to punt, Georgia's Bryan McClendon moved from his spot out wide at the last second. He came in untouched and blocked the kick, giving the No. 5 Bulldogs the ball at the 13.

Kregg Lumpkin ran it in on the next play for a 14-0 lead, and Georgia went on to win 34-17 Saturday.

"That was something they hadn't shown all year," Gailey said.

Did Gailey think something bad was about to happen when he saw McClendon run to the end of the line?

"Yep, I sure did," he said. "But you have no time to do anything."

The Yellow Jackets (6-6) continued to have problems with their punts, even when they weren't getting blocked. Andy Thomson, who replaced Higgins as the starter midway through the season, had a kick of only 33 yards early in the game.

That prompted Gailey to send in Higgins for the next punt, which McClendon blocked. On the final punt, Higgins shanked it horribly, and the ball rolled dead after only 25 yards.

GETTING PERSONAL: Perhaps befitting the rivalry, there were eight personal fouls called during the game, including one on Georgia Tech quarterback Reggie Ball.

Ball left with a concussion, but on his final play, he apparently shoved a Georgia trainer, drawing the 15-yard penalty.

After a flurry of flags in the third quarter, the referee pulled together Georgia quarterback David Greene and Georgia Tech linebacker Keyaron Fox.

"He was just telling us it was starting to get a little bit out of control," Fox said. "This is an emotional game. Everybody was playing that way."

The penalties hardly stopped the trash talking. Georgia linebacker Odell Thurman, who finished with eight tackles, did a lot of it, jawing with Ball and others after nearly every play.

"It's a heated rivalry," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "There was a lot of jawing and a lot of extracurricular activity around the whistle. I think the officials did a good job keeping control of the game."

JEREMY JAMS: Jeremy Thomas usually has to be content with blocking for others. On Saturday, he got to play a leading role in the Georgia offense.

Thomas, a former walk-on, scored on a 1-yard run and led the Bulldogs with five catches for 51 yards.

"That was fun," he said. "I don't know if I ever caught five passes in my life."

Georgia coach Mark Richt decided to throw more to Thomas, figuring that would neutralize a Georgia Tech defense that relies heavily on blitzes and stunts.

"They do like to blitz, so we thought there would be a chance we could get him the ball," Richt said. "It's not a devastating play, but it's a play to get you going. It's a high-percentage play, something that helped us maintain a few drives."

The 238-pound Thomas might have had a few more yards, but he seemed to go out of his way to run into would-be tacklers rather than trying to avoid them.

"My feet don't move very fast," he said with a grin. "A couple of times, I should have tried to deke or spin."

GENEROUS GREENE: David Greene has come up with a unique way of scoring touchdowns.

The Georgia quarterback tries to run with the ball, fumbles just short of the goal line and has an offensive lineman fall on it in the end zone.

It happened a year ago, with Jon Stinchcomb scoring a crucial touchdown in an SEC East-clinching victory over Auburn. It happened again Saturday, when Greene ran with the ball on first-and-goal at the Georgia Tech 4.

Greene fumbled on a hit by Daryl Smith, but freshman center Nick Jones dropped on the ball in the end zone for his first career touchdown.

"Maybe Greene is a guy who likes to share with his teammates," coach Mark Richt quipped.

EXTRA POINTS: Georgia Tech wide receiver Jonathan Smith caught nine passes, finishing the regular season with a school-record 75 catches. Kerry Watkins set the old mark of 71 last season. Smith also holds the yardage mark of 1,124, set this year. ... Georgia blocked its second punt of the season to go with three blocked field goals. Those have led to 17 points. ... Georgia DE David Pollack had his fourth career interception. ... Bulldogs K Billy Bennett set an NCAA record for attempted field goals. He has 106 for his career. Bennett also kicked 27 field goals this season, tying the Southeastern Conference record.