Quincy Carter’s Georgia career was an up and down affair. 1998 was mostly up for the former minor league baseball player, with road wins over South Carolina and Auburn and a huge upset of LSU in Baton Rouge. But then there were losses to Tennessee and Florida (which seemed almost automatic in the 90’s) and a crushing loss to Georgia Tech on a last second field goal.
After finishing the season with a record of 8-3, the Dawgs, for the second time in four years, faced Virginia in the Peach bowl. The first meeting, in 1995, had been an exciting one, with Georgia rallying from a 24-6 deficit, only to lose on a last minute kickoff return touchdown. The rematch would be every bit as nerve-wracking.
George Welsh’s Cavaliers, who came into the game with a record of 9-2 and ranked 13th in the country, promptly jumped all over Georgia. Carter threw three interceptions in the first half, all of which led to Virginia touchdowns. Led by future NFL star Thomas Jones and quarterback Aaron Brooks, the Cavs surged to a 21-0 lead.
I had just moved into my first apartment a few months before, and I can remember watching the game by myself on New Year’s Eve. I had plans to go out later that night, but given the way things were going, I was considering simply staying home, crawling into bed, and letting the old year limp away into the night.
But then Larry Mann blocked a punt, and Carter found Tony Small for a touchdown to get the Dawgs on the board. Suddenly there was hope for the second half!
In the third quarter Carter threw another touchdown pass, this one to All American cornerback/receiver/kick returner/ Champ Bailey (another of my all-time favorite Bulldogs). Then Olandis Gary, who would rush for 110 yards in the game, scored on a fifteen yard run and the score was 21-21. Maybe I’d be heading out for a night on the town after all.
Then momentum sung back in Virginia’s favor, with Brooks hooking up with Terrence Wilkins for a 67 yard touchdown. Just like that the Cavs were back on top. Virginia kicker Todd Braverman lined up for the PAT, and missed! It would prove to be a huge play in the game.
Georgia went ahead for the first time on a 2 yard run by Gary early in the fourth quarter. On the Dawgs next possession, Carter hit Michael Greer for a 52 yard gain to set up his own two yard touchdown run. In was 35-27 Georgia with only 7:01 to play.
With just over four minutes to go, the Georgia defense intercepted Brooks in the end zone. The Dawgs had the game in the bag right? Anyone familiar with Georgia football history will know the answer to that question. We never seem to make it easy on ourselves.
Virginia got the ball back and Brooks broke loose for a 30 yard touchdown. The Cavs went for two in an attempt to tie the score, but Jeff Harris broke up Brooks’ pass in the end zone with 1:34 to play. Ball game, right?
Again, never underestimate Georgia’s penchant for drama. Virginia recovered an onside kick, and Jones ripped off a 26 yard run. Suddenly Braverman, who had missed two field goals in addition to the missed extra point, was lining up a 48 yard field goal for the win.
I sat in my recliner (which I’d recently acquired at a used furniture store for fifteen dollars) and feared the worst. It was Georgia Tech all over again. Georgia’s comeback was all going to be for nothing. My New Year’s Eve would be ruined after all. As Virginia snapped the ball, I stood up in my chair and put both hands on my head. The kick seemed to take forever to get to the uprights. It drifted, drifted, drifted, and missed! The Dawgs had won!
I collapsed in relief; every ounce of emotion expended. It was the largest bowl comeback in UGA history; a record that would stand until…well, we’ll cover that ground next time.
This game will always hold a special place in my heart, if for no other reason than it was yet another example of Georgia’s never-say-die attitude. I’ve learned over the years to never give up on the Bulldogs (as this years’s Auburn and Georgia Tech games will attest). Oh, and by the way, I had a great time in Athens on that New Year’s Eve! Go Dawgs!