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Georgia secures first trip to Atlanta with win!

AUBURN, Ala. - No player on the Georgia sideline had ever been a drive away from a championship. No matter. Georgia coach <b>Mark Richt</b> knew the way.

Trailing Auburn by four points with less than two minutes left to play, Georgia's offense  was about to take the field when Richt turned to senior offensive tackle Jon Stinchcomb and said "This is what it's all about. This is what it's all about.''

Witnessing the exchange, tailback Musa Smith said he was "surprised (Richt) was that cool. He just made us concentrate.''

 Six plays later, Michael Johnson hauled in a fourth-down, 19-yard pass from David Greene that propelled Georgia to a 24-21 victory over Auburn and its first SEC Eastern Division championship.

Johnson was an unlikely hero, filling in for injured starter Terrence Edwards by catching 13 passes for 141 yards and the biggest touchdown of the season - perhaps the biggest touchdown for the Bulldogs since they won their last Southeastern Conference championship in 1982.

Before Saturday night, Johnson had 11 catches for 130 yards for the entire season. He more than doubled that production in one game, but he also had a fumble earlier in the game that may have made it difficult for some coaches to make him the target on the play that would decide Georgia's season.

Said Richt: "Michael is very capable. He's big and he's strong and he's a very physical blocker and he's very physical going to the ball. I felt if anybody was going to win a jump ball, it was him.''

Added Richt: "Thankfully, he fought hard and caught it.''

Johnson had to outjump a former Georgia signee - Auburn defensive back Horace Willis - in the back of  the end zone and then had to make sure he landed in-bounds.

"I just had to go get it,'' Johnson said. "I wanted it more.''

Some Auburn players suggested Johnson pushed off Willis before making the catch, but the catch now will take its place in Georgia history.

No better than fourth on Georgia's depth chart at the start of the season, Johnson was No. 1 on the list of heroes, a list that also included Sean Jones and Boss Bailey.
Jones registered the first two interceptions of his career and also recovered a fumble, and all three takeaways came in the opening quarter.

Coming back from a sprained knee, Bailey recorded four tackles and two sacks as the Georgia defense took control in the second half.
 

Another hero was Stinchcomb, who delivered a halftime speech that sparked a listless offense to recover from a 14-3 deficit.

Georgia (10-1 overall, 7-1 SEC) has secured its first trip to the SEC championship game. Georgia's SEC West opponent in the Dec. 7 game at the Georgia Dome has not been determined, but for the Bulldogs the most important factor was the program finally had moved past Florida and Tennessee in the East.
 

"We didn't come to the University of Georgia not to be East champs,'' said defensive end David Pollack. "This is what we expect.''
Pollack insisted Georgia is not satisfied. "There ain't no weight off; we've got to win (the SEC championship). We're not satisfied with the East.''

Yet from the emotions on the Georgia sideline, the significance of winning the East was clear. There were tears from coaches and players, and after the game Richt said a huge hurdle had been cleared.

"This is kind of how I felt when I took the job, that Georgia had the ingredients to be champions,'' Richt said. "I know we're not SEC champions right now, but we're champions.''

Auburn (7-4 overall, 4-3 SEC) needed to win to protect its place near the top of the SEC West, but it still has next week's game at Alabama as a means of making this a successful season.

"This was a tough game,'' said Auburn center Ben Nowland. "It hurts. We couldn't get a first down on offense toward the end of the game.''

Added Auburn running back Ronnie Brown: "We both played hard, but they just made it happen. We just need to get back after it and get ready to play against Alabama.''

Georgia did not lead until Johnson's touchdown catch with 1:25 left to play. The comeback ended a three-game winning streak in the series for Auburn.
The 2000 and 2001 Georgia-Auburn games were decided on the last play in favor of the Tigers. Last year, Georgia was on the verge of pulling even with Auburn when Jasper Sanks was stopped on the 1-yard line. The 2000 game went to overtime.
Saturday night was Georgia's turn to come out ahead.

"We had too many injured players and not enough subs, but we played well enough to win, we just didn't,'' said Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville. "They had the big play at the end of the game this year, just like we had the big play at the end of the game last year.''

Though the Greene to Johnson touchdown pass will be the memorable play of the game, equally important was the second-half effort of the Georgia defense.
Brown had 68 yards rushing in the first quarter and 103 yards at halftime, but he added only 21 yards on 10 carries in the second half.

Containing Brown was the big first step in Georgia's ability to put more pressure on Auburn quarterback Jason Campbell. Georgia sacked Campbell only twice but hurried more of his passes in the second half.

"(Georgia) came out and dominated the third and fourth quarters,'' Tuberville said. "You have to give it to their defense. The defense won the game for them. That's usually how you win championships.''

After trailing 14-3 at halftime, Georgia rebounded with touchdown drives on its first two possessions of the second half. Auburn answered the first touchdown drive for a 21-10 lead.


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