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October 14, 2006

Vanderbilt spoils Georgia Homecoming

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ATHENS, Ga. - Vanderbilt celebrated wildly, cheered on by sprinkling of gold-and-black-clad fans amid the sea of red. Georgia and its 92,000 backers trudged out of Sanford Stadium in stunned silence. The scoreboard went blank as soon as it was over, a feeble attempt to erase what everyone had just seen.

A stunner between the hedges.

Bryant Hahnfeldt kicked a 33-yard field goal with 2 seconds remaining Saturday to give Vanderbilt a 24-22 upset of the 16th-ranked Bulldogs, who lost to an unranked team for the first time since 2002.

The Commodores (3-4, 1-3 Southeastern Conference) had not beaten Georgia since 1994, and this was only their fourth win in the series in the last 43 meetings. In all likelihood, it ended any hopes the Bulldogs (5-2, 2-2) had of winning their third SEC title in five years.

"We're not mathematically out of it because there's so many games remaining," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "But I'm not going to make it my main point to get back to the SEC championship game. I'm going to talk about to be getting back to playing winning football. That's what I'm going to stress the most."

It seemed the Bulldogs would manage a lackluster victory when Tony Taylor returned an interception 24 yards for a touchdown with just under 9 1/2 minutes remaining for a 22-21 lead.

"We were hoping that would be the spark we needed to finish off Vandy," Taylor said. "But they finished it off better than we did."

Georgia failed on a 2-point conversion, and Andy Bailey missed a 37-yard field goal with about 5 minutes left that would have forced Vanderbilt to go for a touchdown on its final possession.

As it was, the Commodores only needed a field goal. Chris Nickson, who threw a pair of crucial interceptions in the second half, methodically drove them down the field on a 15-play, 65-yard drive.

Vanderbilt passed up a 52-yard field goal attempt, converting on fourth-and-5 when Nickson hooked up with Sean Walker for a 6-yard gain. Cassen Jackson-Garrison ran for another first down inside the Georgia 20.

The Commodores set up the ball in the middle of the field for Hahnfeldt, who was just 4-of-8 on the season and had missed two the previous week in a 17-10 loss to Mississippi. This time, his kick was right down the middle. Hahnfeldt charged toward the sideline with his right fist in the air and was mobbed by his teammates.

"It was unbelievable," Hahnfeldt said. "I just start running around."

The Bulldogs tried a couple of laterals on the ensuing kickoff, but the ball was knocked out of bounds short of midfield to end the game.

Vanderbilt, which hasn't had a winning season since 1982, lost its first three SEC games by a combined 12 points.

"We feel like we are better," coach Bobby Johnson said. "But when you don't get it done, you begin to question yourself. That is human nature."

Georgia is the team questioning itself now. The Bulldogs lost their second in a row, having squandered a 17-point lead the previous week in a 51-33 setback to Tennessee.

This one followed a similar theme. Georgia went up 10-0 in the first half on Bailey's 23-yard field goal and Joe Tereshinski's 23-yard scoring pass to Martrez Milner, but couldn't hold the lead.

After Milner's TD, Alex Washington sparked the Commodores with a 43-yard kickoff return, and Earl Bennett put them on the board by hauling in a 13-yard touchdown pass from Nickson.

Bailey added another field goal, this one from 20 yards out, on the final play of the first half to give Georgia a tenuous 13-7 lead going to locker room.

Just as they did against Tennessee, the Bulldogs started the third quarter with a turnover. Kregg Lumpkin fumbled on the second play of the half, D.J. Moore recovered at the Georgia 25 and Jackson-Garrison punched it over from the 3 to put Vanderbilt ahead for the first time.

The Commodores missed a chance to extend the lead when Nickson was picked off in the end zone by Tra Battle, but that was merely a reprieve for the Bulldogs. Georgia went three-and-out, Vanderbilt got the ball back and quickly drove for another TD.

Nickson scrambled for a 24-yard gain, then went to Walker on a 35-yard touchdown down the right sideline.

Nickson was 15-of-29 for 190 yards and led the Commodores in rushing with 59 yards. Georgia had 373 yards but failed to score a touchdown on four trips inside the Vanderbilt 20, settling for three short field goals by Bailey.

The Bulldogs used two quarterbacks. Tereshinski started and was 11-of-17 for 151 yards. Freshman Matthew Stafford was in at the end of the game, going 9-of-13 for 86 yards. No matter who was in the game, the Bulldogs failed to capitalize on their scoring chances.

"If we could have put some touchdowns on the board instead of trying for field goals, I'm confident we would have won," running back Danny Ware said. "I don't blame anybody. We lost this one as a team."

Georgia may have suffered a key injury, as well. Starting tailback Thomas Brown hurt a knee returning the second-half kickoff.

"He won't be playing anytime soon," Richt said. "He hurt it pretty bad, I think."

For more coverage of Vanderbilt's big win, check out VandySports.com, and for more on the reaction at Georgia, check out UGASports.com.


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