Everything that Georgia had on the line when the 2003 game rolled around was missing going into the 2004 game, thanks to an early season upset by Tennessee and a loss to Auburn the week before. All the Dawgs had to play for this time around was pride and guts. In the end, that would be enough to pull out a 19-13 win in front of the home folks who endured fairly miserable conditions to watch one of the more curious endings to a game in this series.
The end might have been very different if it hadn’t been for David Greene, though.
Greene fractured the thumb on his throwing hand on the first series of the game. As the first half came to an end, it seemed that he would finish his last home game on the bench, as Georgia led 16-0. Tech punted four times and turned the ball over on downs twice.
Unfortunately, Georgia’s offense stalled under Shockley in the third quarter, as the Dawgs had a -15 total yards in response to the Jackets’ 13 points. Things, as they like to say, were getting dicey. And that’s when the winningest quarterback in D-1 history decided to step up.
“I felt the momentum slipping,” said Greene… “I took my coat off. I took the brace off my thumb. If anything, I just wanted to give us a little spark.”
He did more than that. Unable to throw the ball deep and taking all the snaps out of the shotgun to lessen the pain, Greene led the Dawgs on a 10-play, 40-yard drive that ate up almost five minutes on the clock and culminated in the first field goal of Brandon Coutu’s career. Those three points were huge, staking Georgia to a six-point lead and requiring Tech to drive the length of the field to win the game. It turned out that there weren’t enough downs for that to happen.
You can argue that the last two minutes of the game overshadowed Greene’s heroics, and there’s probably some truth in that. Here’s the play-by-play:
Georgia Tech at 2:06 GT GA 1st and 10 at GT 41 Reggie Ball (GT) rushed left side for no gain. 13 19 2nd and 10 at GT 41 Reggie Ball (GT) pass across the middle complete to Levon Thomas (GT) for 38 yards. 1st and 10 at GA 21 Reggie Ball (GT) pass left side complete to P.J. Daniels (GT) for no gain. 2nd and 10 at GA 21 Reggie Ball (GT) sacked for a loss of 11 yards. 3rd and 21 at GA 32 Reggie Ball (GT) pass incomplete across the middle. 4th and 21 at GA 32 Reggie Ball (GT) pass incomplete to the right side.; turnover on downs. DRIVE TOTALS: 6 plays, 27 yards
Reggie Ball pass incomplete across the middle doesn’t do the situation justice, of course. That was the infamous spike on third down play, as Ball lost track of the downs and threw away a play he needed to keep. In fairness to Ball, he had help from his offensive coordinator, as this photo sequence shows (h/t Georgia Sports Blog):
Nevertheless, Ball, always classy, found a way to blame his misfortune on someone else.
“The scoreboard said one thing, the refs said another,” Ball said. “When you’ve got a game that close, you’ve got to expect a little home cooking. You’ve got to fight through it.”
Too bad for his team that Ball didn’t, as he followed up one mistake with another, by throwing the ball out of bounds on fourth down to preserve the loss for Tech.
It was the last game in Sanford Stadium for David Greene, David Pollack and Brian VanGorder. The game also marked Georgia’s senior class as never having known defeat at the hands of Georgia Tech. Bittersweet? Perhaps a little, as this quote from Mark Richt about the decision to let Greene go back in with his injured thumb indicates:
“I was sitting there thinking, ‘This is the last game he’s going to play in this stadium. Who am I to keep him out?’” Richt said. “So I let him go back in.”
But even with the end of a memorable era, all was not lost. Dawg fans were cheered by the thought of two more years of Reggie Ball. And as we shall see, Ball wouldn’t let his admirers down.