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Georgia Reels In Title on Johnson's Catch

Late touchdown reception helps Bulldogs top Auburn, 24-21, to clinch SEC East and spot in conference championship game.

November 17, 2002|From Associated Press

AUBURN, Ala. — Michael Johnson went up for the ball and Georgia hasn't come down yet.

David Greene threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to a leaping Johnson on fourth and long with 1 minute 25 seconds remaining to help No. 7 Georgia defeat No. 24 Auburn, 24-21, Saturday, giving the Bulldogs their first Southeastern Conference East Division title.

"I know it's only the East, but we're champions tonight," Coach Mark Richt said.

Three straight incompletions by Greene and a false-start penalty set up fourth and 15, but Greene pump-faked, then lofted his pass into the left corner of the end zone. Johnson, subbing for an injured Terrence Edwards, outjumped former Georgia signee Horace Willis for the touchdown reception.

"We lost our best receiver, then [Johnson] comes out and makes one of the best catches in Georgia history," Greene said.

The play was called 70-X-Takeoff, and it launched the Bulldogs to the championship game for the first time. The Bulldogs, 10-1 overall, 7-1 in the conference, earned a shot at their first conference title since 1982 and ended a three-game losing streak to the Tigers (7-4, 4-3).

"We're going to Atlanta," linebacker Tony Gilbert said. "We should have been there a long, long time ago."

Auburn took over at its 28 with 1:18 to play, and Jason Campbell quickly hit Robert Johnson over the middle for a 25-yard gain.

The Georgia defense resumed its second-half dominance after that, with a sack by Boss Bailey and two Auburn penalties leaving Auburn with fourth and 20. Campbell's pass to Tre Smith fell well short of the first-down marker with 19 seconds left.

Georgia players raced over to celebrate with their fans, and Edwards helped Kareem Marshall unfurl a banner proclaiming the Bulldogs champions.

Edwards also couldn't resist a dig at their biggest East rival.

"Tell those Florida Gators they don't have to play anymore," he crowed after Johnson's catch.

The Tigers, who still have title hopes in the West, slumped off the field. The only time they trailed in the game was over the final 85 seconds.

Georgia's last four victories in the series have come at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Greene completed 18 of 35 passes for 232 yards with an interception. Playing without Edwards (separated right shoulder) and Damien Gary (left leg injury), he passed for only 29 yards in the first half.

Johnson had caught 11 passes coming in but finished with 13 receptions for 141 yards and the final touchdown.

Auburn led, 14-3, at halftime behind Ronnie Brown's 103 yards rushing, including a 53-yard touchdown. Brown had 10 second-half carries for 21 yards, struggling after injuring his right ankle.

Quarterback Jason Campbell was 12 for 23 for 133 yards with two first-quarter interceptions. He also rushed for 72 yards despite getting sacked four times.

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