Originally created 10/31/04

Georgia seniors will savor elusive win



JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - They'll always have Florida - at least this once.

Don't tell Georgia that Saturday's game likely won't matter in the Southeastern Conference standings.

Don't tell them that this was a downtrodden Florida team with a lame-duck head coach.

Don't tell them that Steve Spurrier might be back next year to resume his torment on future generations of Bulldogs.

None of that mattered Saturday to any of the 42,376-and-a-half Georgia fans in the stands to see the Bulldogs prevail 31-24.

It certainly didn't matter to anyone wearing a Bulldog uniform.

This was their day. This was their revenge. This was their legacy.

"I had to gasp for breath," said senior linebacker Arnold Harrison of Augusta. "For the last five years I've seen Georgia teams lose to Florida and the seniors always take it the worst. Now we'll have this forever."

If forever can be captured in a moment, this was the scene.

Coach Mark Richt, drenched twice by his players, carried his son and raised his thumbs to the delirious masses that lingered in the northern bleachers.

Junior defensive tackle Kedric Golsten, all 282 pounds of him, leaped 8 feet over the wall and into the arms of fawning fans.

Offensive tackle Max Jean-Gilles danced on the sidelines and screamed at the top of his hearty lungs, "This is our house!"

Senior quarterback David Greene was ready to take out the back judge, if necessary, to get back the game ball that ended a long run of Bulldogs misery.

It was like nothing anyone had ever seen before. And in fact, nobody on this Georgia team - player or coach - had ever been a part of anything like this. Most Georgia players in the past 15 years had never been a part of anything like this. O-fer the last six. Only one win in the last 14. Forget the monkey. This was a gorilla-shedding moment.

"We got our one!" Harrison screamed. "I knew we were gonna do it."

Saturday could have been a real downer for the Dawgs. Their fleeting hope of playing for the SEC title all but slipped away before kickoff when Tennessee turned back its last real threat by beating South Carolina. This game was for pride and prejudice only - and it was one giant catharsis for Bulldog Nation.

"I'm glad our fans can go to the world's largest cocktail party and not have to listen to Florida fans running their mouths," said senior defensive lineman David Pollack.

Three straight senior classes since Richt arrived in 2001 have walked off this field and felt the sting of unrequited bliss at the hands of the Gators. This senior class - one of the most successful classes in Bulldogs history - couldn't suffer the same fate.

They refused to suffer that fate.

"We stepped up when we had to," said Greene.

They certainly did. The 24-7 lead the Bulldogs held with 22 minutes remaining wouldn't be enough. Something special still needed to be done.

Florida, riding the emotions of a devastating week that cost them their coach, wouldn't give up its adopted turf so easily. Sophomore quarterback Chris Leak threw two touchdown passes to cut the Georgia lead to 24-21 with 12:20 remaining. There was not a Bulldog fan in Alltel Stadium who wasn't holding his breath or fighting back the here-we-go-agains.

That's when Greene and senior receivers Fred Gibson and Reggie Brown huddled together. It was their time.

"Just us three got together. We had to make one final run," Greene said.

Greene immediately hit Brown deep for 51 yards that wounded the already fragile psyche of Florida's defense. Then he hit Brown again for 14 more yards to the Gators' 16. Facing third-and-9 at the 15, Greene fired a pass so far in front of Gibson that Richt was certain it was about to be intercepted. But the senior, who once committed to play for the Gators before recanting, reached out with his fingertips and finally caught his first touchdown in four years against Florida.

That proved to be all Georgia needed.

To this group of Georgia seniors, it means the world. These are the players who ended the SEC title drought. These are the players who turned the tide on Tennessee. These are the players who can tie the 43 wins generated by the mightiest Bulldogs from 1980-83. These are the players who had beaten every team in the SEC except one.

Now they'll always have Florida, too.

This was Georgia's day. Let them bask in it.

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or scott.michaux@augustachronicle.com.