Bulldogs Edge Tigers, 31-28

In a game featuring two old rivals, Clemson and Georgia played like it was 1986 all over again, except this time it was Billy Bennett's field goal that lifted 8th ranked Georgia to win over Clemson. For the first time in a long while, the Tigers' special teams were anything but special.

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Emotions ran high Saturday night at Samford Stadium, and rightfully so. Georgia and Clemson faced off for the first time since 1995, renewing a rivalry that many fans have sorely missed for the last seven years.

Georgia would open up with a 7-0 lead, thanks to in part to two crucial unsportsmanlike conduct penalties that extended the drive when it appeared as though the Tigers defense had held on third down. Quarterback David Greene would finish it off by throwing a 4-yard scoring strike to Damien Gary with 51 seconds left in the first quarter.

Following a Kelvin Morris interception, Willie Simmons would lead a short drive culminating in a one-yard touchdown run by Bernard Rambert to tie the game 7-7 early in the second quarter.

The two plays following Rambert's touchdown would not only prove to be detrimental to the Tigers' upset hopes, but they would also serve as a preview of several special teams blunders that would occur throughout the evening.

On the ensuing kick off, Aaron Hunt pinned Georgia back on the 25-yard line, but an illegal procedure penalty forced a re-kick. The Dawgs would take advantage of the Clemson miscue in a big way.

Sophomore wide receiver Fred Gibson erased any momentum the Tigers had established in their scoring drive by scampering 90 yards down the right sideline to put Georgia back ahead by a touchdown.

Redshirt freshman quarterback D.J. Shockley would then get into the act as he provided the final fireworks for Georgia in the first half by scoring from 9-yards out to give the Dawgs a comfortable 14-point cushion.

After looking somewhat rattled early, Clemson quarterback Willie Simmons would go to work. Directing a drive starting near midfield with less than 2 minutes left in the first half, the redshirt junior would hit Kevin Youngblood in the back of the end zone with only 8 seconds remaining to pull Clemson within seven.

Despite two fumbles, a kickoff return for a touchdown, and an interception, the Tigers clearly took the momementum into the locker room with the last second touchdown.

After taking the opening kickoff of the second half and driving deep into Tiger territory, Georgia running back Musa Smith had difficulty catching a pitch from quarterback David Greene. As the ball squirted into the backfield, Bryant McNeal scooped it up and raced 55-yards untouched to the tie the game at 21.

After a Fred Gibson fumble on the ensuing kickoff, a 37-yard Aaron Hunt field goal that bounced off the right upright, and a defensive stop, Yusef Kelly plowed his way into the endzone from one yard out to give the Tigers a 28-21 lead headed in the 4th quarter.

It would be the last points scored by Clemson in the game.

Shockley replaced Greene again at the start of the 4th quarter and directed a short scoring drive, thanks in part to a 40-yard punt return by Damien Gary. Shockley hit Terrance Edwards for a 24-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 28 with just over 12 minutes remaining.

Following several defensive stops by the Tigers, the Dawgs would win the field position battle that would ultimately lead to Billy Bennett's game winning field goal. After punting from their own 31-yard line late in the 4th quarter, the Georgia defense would hold the Tigers to just 2 yards on three plays.

The Tigers' defense would respond by stopping the Dawgs on third and long, but Billy Bennett drilled a 43-yard field goal just inside the left upright to give Georgia the lead with just over 5-minutes remaining in the game.

As Willie Simmons and company marched onto the field, you just had the feeling that something magical was getting ready to happen.

Simmons calmly directed a sharp looking drive that took the Tigers deep into Bulldog territory with only minutes remaining in the game. After an incompletion and 4-yard loss on a draw to Bernard Rambert, the Tigers elected to run a quarterback draw in hopes of gaining a few more yards for Aaron Hunt.

Operating from Georgia's 29 yard line with only 2 minutes remaining, Simmons was stopped for no gain. It would prove to be one of more crucial plays of the evening.

Following a time out, Aaron Hunt would trot onto the field to attempt a potential game tying 46-yard field goal.

The snap on the kick was high; forcing Hunt to delay is normal kicking motion ever so slightly. The kick was on target, but fell literally inches short of the goal post. Georgia would then run out the clock to seal the deal.

"I have never had that many breakdowns in all my years of coaching," head coach Tommy Bowden said. "If I had a special teams coach, this would have been his last game. We did enough to win the game offensively and defensively, but we didn't win the kicking game," said Bowden.

"Defensively, we held them to under 210 total yards, I thought we did an excellent job. They played well enough to win. I was real pleased with John (Lovett) and his staff and the defensive effort."

"I think we played hard right down to the wire on both sides of the ball. I thought we had the effort, I thought we played hard. To play the eighth ranked team in country you have to play well in all three phases of the game, and we only played well in two," added Bowden.

The Tigers will next battle Louisiana Tech in a rematch of last year's Humanitarian Bowl this weekend at Death Valley. Kickoff is set for 1:00 PM.

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