Nov. 24, 2001
By PAUL NEWBERRY
AP Sports Writer
ATLANTA – Verron Haynes and the other Georgia seniors dreaded the idea of leaving school without beating Georgia Tech.
Not to worry.
Haynes, who spent most of his career as a blocking back, ran for 207 yards and Billy Bennett set a school record with six field goals, leading No. 19 Georgia to a 31-17 victory over the 21st-ranked Yellow Jackets on Saturday night.
The Bulldogs (7-3) defeated Georgia Tech for the first time since 1997, bolstering their bowl prospects along the way.
Coach Mark Richt tried to inspire the seniors by naming them all captains, even having a “C” stitched on their jerseys. The motivational tactic worked, especially on Haynes.
| Georgia’s Tim Wansley picks off George Godsey and he’s off to the races for a TD.|
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| Georgia Tech’s George Godsey finds Kelly Campbell in the back of the end zone for a TD.|
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| Georgia Tech’s Joe Burns finds the hole and sprints 37 yards for a TD.|
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| Verron Haynes takes a hit at the line, but keeps his legs moving for a Georgia touchdown.|
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He gave the Tech defense an up-close look at his letter, carrying the ball 39 times. Since being moved from fullback to tailback, Haynes has rushed for 399 yards in two games – more than Georgia’s leading rusher a year ago had for the entire season.
“We had a team that refused to lose,” Richt said. “We had a bunch of seniors who had not beaten Georgia Tech. They didn’t want to leave here without beating Georgia Tech.”
Another senior, Tim Wansley, returned an interception 28 yards for the clinching touchdown in the fourth quarter.
“I wanted to beat them my last time,” Wansley said. “They’ve beaten me three years in a row.”
Richt beat Georgia Tech (7-4) in his first try. His predecessor, Jim Donnan, was fired in large part because he couldn’t win against Georgia’s biggest rivals.
“When you win, it sells the program,” said Richt, whose team finishes the regular season next Saturday with a makeup game against winless Houston. “I hope people realize we’re moving in the right direction and doing things the right way.”
Georgia Tech won three straight over its state rival for the first time since the early 1960s. But the Yellow Jackets couldn’t make it four in a row, taking another frustrating loss in a season that began with hopes of contending for a national championship.
“They just flat out beat us,” safety Chris Young said. “The pain is almost unbearable, because it was Georgia.”
Georgia Tech plays next Saturday at Florida State. Instead of the BCS, the Yellow Jackets face the prospect of dropping all the way to the Seattle Bowl.
“We’ll take any bowl we can get,” Young said. “We’ll take anybody that picks us.”
Haynes spent most of his career as a fullback who rarely carried the ball. But Musa Smith was plagued by a groin injury and no one else stepped up, so Richt finally moved Haynes to tailback last week.
He rushed for 192 yards against Mississippi, then did even better against Georgia.
“I figured it out too late,” Richt said. “He’s a talented guy with a great heart. I didn’t know he would be the tailback he is.”
After Bennett kicked five field goals, Haynes finally got in the end zone on a 3-yard run in the third quarter. He finished off the Yellow Jackets with several tackle-breaking runs in the waning minutes.
“We kept on pounding it, kept on pounding it,” Haynes said. “I could see them getting a little bit fatigued.”
Bennett had struggled in his sophomore season, making just 11-of-19 attempts. That all changed Saturday.
He kicked field goals of 40, 44, 32 and 28 yards in the first half, tying the school record and giving the Bulldogs a 12-10 lead.
Bennett got the record all to himself with a 37-yarder midway through the third quarter, then added a 45-yarder with 6:56 remaining to tie the Southeastern Conference mark for most field goals in a game.
He joined Auburn’s Al Del Greco, Florida’s Bobby Raymond and Phillip Doyle of Alabama.
“This just shows me that I can get through something tough,” Bennett said.
Georgia was clinging to a 21-17 lead in the fourth quarter when Wansley made the biggest play. The senior cornerback stepped in front of George Godsey’s short pass in the flat, returning it 28 yards for a touchdown with 8:49 remaining.
Joe Burns fumbled on Georgia Tech’s next possession at the 19, setting up Bennett’s sixth field goal and sending many of the gold-clad fans to the exits.
Georgia finished with 232 yards on the ground and 442 overall. Georgia Tech was held to 242 yards, with just 63 yards rushing on 28 carries.
The Bulldogs were inspired by a hospital visit the previous day with ailing teammate David Jacobs. He suffered a stroke last week, affecting his entire right side.
“This a big win for D.J.,” Wansley said. “This is a big win for all of us.”
Georgia gambled on its first possession of the second half, keeping the offense on the field for fourth-and-inches at its own 39. David Greene made the first down with a quarterback sneak.
Three plays later, the redshirt freshman converted on third-and-10 with a 22-yard pass to LaBrone Mitchell. The Bulldogs got in position for Bennett’s fifth field goal, a 37-yarder for a 15-10 lead.
Georgia Tech responded with Burns’ 37-yard touchdown run, reclaiming the lead at 17-15. Burns gained more yards on that carry than Tech had on the ground to that point.
Georgia came right back on its next possession. Greene pump-faked before throwing a 50-yard pass to freshman Fred Gibson, then Haynes broke off a 20-yard run.
The Bulldogs finally got in the end zone when Haynes bounced off two or three defenders at the line and spun in from the 3 with 2:33 left in the third quarter. A 2-point conversion failed.