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October 25, 2008

Dawgs step back onto the national stage

BATON ROUGE, La. All the clamoring for 9th-ranked Georgia to finally get that "signature" win can officially cease and desist.

Saturday's 52-38 victory over 11th-ranked and defending national champion LSU certainly took care of that.

"I think this was a big win for us, obviously," quarterback Matthew Stafford said. "LSU is a good football team and we had all facets of the football game show up today. It's just a great win, just a great win.'

Head coach Mark Richt could not agree more.

With the annual grudge match against Florida now less than a week away, the Bulldogs (7-1, 4-1) needed a victory before next week's showdown which will give the winner a leg up in the race for the SEC East championship.

While that's certainly true, head coach Mark Richt said he's going to enjoy this victory for at least a little while.

"What a blessing, what a great game for our program, for our football team and what a great game for our fans," said Richt, his eyes almost tearing up. "I'm just thrilled for everybody who took this long trip. I loved my wife being here, my father being here. It was just a great memory."

Despite some anxious moments late in the contest, it was easily the Bulldogs' finest moment of the year.

Stafford and running back Knowshon Moreno were brilliant. Stafford completed 17-of-26 passes for 249 yards and two touchdowns while adding a 7-yard scoring run with Moreno rushing 21 times for 163 yards and a touchdown on a 68-yard run, the second-longest of his career.

"You can't let runs that should be tackled go untackled," LSU coach Les Miles said. "Our football team has to learn that. That's my job. I promise you I will go about teaching it. Guys have bad days but those bad days can't sink a team."

Linebacker Darryl Gamble certainly did his part to sink the Tigers' ship.

The Bainbridge native returned two interceptions for scores, including a 37-yarder on the game's first play before putting the final touches on the victory with a 52-yard return with 3:18 to play.

"Darryl's a guy who always comes to practice and works really hard," cornerback Asher Allen said. "You saw he ended the game with a big-time play. Ending the game like that, you see him do it in practice and he took it to the big game. Big-time players make big-time plays in games like this."

The offense made its share of big plays of its own.

Two huge third-quarter plays by the Bulldogs helped Georgia get the cushion that would prove to be the difference in the game.

First it was a 49-yard scoring strike from Stafford to A.J. Green, followed by Moreno's 68-yard that came on the first play following a missed field goal by Tiger kicker Colt David.

Stafford used his legs in the fourth quarter, scoring on a 7-yard keeper to make the score 45-24 before LSU (5-2, 3-2) made one final comeback try.

The Tigers drew within 45-31 with just over eight minutes to play on a 6-yard touchdown pass from Jarrett Lee to Keiland Williams.

But that was before Gamble's interception pushed the margin to 52-31 until a meaningless touchdown by the Tigers with 2:27 left accounted for the final score.

"It's a great win, a great win," said Moreno. "We needed this."

Not even the most ardent of Bulldog supporters would have ever dreamed that Georgia would get off to the start that it did.

But when Gamble picked off Lee on the game's first play and returned the football 37 yards for the touchdown, the Bulldogs had that emotional lift it had been hoping for.

To LSU's credit, the Tigers answered right back with a 10-play, 72-yard drive capped off by a 10-yard pass from Lee to Brandon Feller to tie the game.

Georgia answered right back.

This time, the Bulldogs responded with a 14-play, 78-yard drive which fullback Fred Munzemaier finished with a 1-yard plunge to put Georgia up 14-7. The drive featured a trio of passes to Michael Moore for a total of 38 yards.

Following an LSU punt, Moreno scooted 47 yards on first down to the LSU 24, and following a 16-yard strike from Stafford to Demiko Goodman, the Georgia quarterback found Kenneth Harris on a 5-yard fade route for a 21-7 edge to start the second quarter.

LSU came back, first getting a 51-yard field goal from David before a 2-yard run by Charles Scott brought the Tigers within 21-17 with 7:23 on the clock. Scott finished the game with 21 carries for 144 yards.

A Bulldog punt on Georgia's ensuing possession put LSU in position to possibly take the lead but Reshad Jones ended those hopes with an interception at the Bulldogs' 35-yard line. The pick was Jones second in as many weeks and third of the year.

The play led to a 50-yard field goal by Blair Walsh, sending Georgia into the lockerroom with a 24-17 lead.

Georgia now prepares for their showdown with Florida next Saturday in Jacksonville.



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