Sept. 26, 2008
By Barry Allen
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - It was an unusual ending to a bizarre game.
Seemingly in control, Alabama watched Georgia score 11 unanswered points with a safety, field goal and touchdown to take a 14-13 lead at Denny Stadium on Oct. 6, 1973.
After missing a potential go-ahead field with just over four minutes to play, Alabama turned to its defense in the final minutes. The offense took advantage of excellent field position and parlayed it into a pair of late scores for a thrilling 28-14 win. Georgia punted after three plays and UA took over at its own 41-yard line. The Tide offense scored in three lightning-quick plays to take a 21-14 lead. First, Crimson Tide quarterback Gary Rutledge completed a 15-yard pass to Jimmy Sharpless, moving the Tide to the Georgia 44. Then, halfback Willie Shelby busted loose up the middle for a 36-yard run, setting the Tide up at the Georgia 8. Rutledge covered the final eight yards around right end and Shelby ran for a two-point conversion, putting UA up 21-14 with 2:22 left in the game.
Four straight incomplete passes by Georgia quarterback Andy Johnson gave Alabama the ball at the Bulldogs' 37 with 1:42 left in the game. The Tide scored in three plays, with Randy Billingsley reaching pay dirt off left tackle on a 17-yard run to give the Tide a 28-14 victory.
Over the game's final 4:33, in which Alabama turned a one-point deficit into a 14-point victory, Georgia ran 10 offensive plays and made 16 total yards. The Bulldogs threw eight passes and completed one. Alabama defensive back Wayne Rhodes' interception on the game's final play sealed the verdict.
"We're tremendously proud of our team for coming back and winning," Alabama head coach Paul "Bear" Bryant told reporters after the game. "We showed a lot of class in the fourth quarter after Georgia ate us up in the third (quarter). We played well in the first half but Georgia had a good plan, were well prepared, as (Georgia coach) Vince's (Dooley) teams always are."
The Crimson Tide held quite a statistical advantage, out-gaining the Bulldogs, 382-177. Alabama rushed for 345 yards, while Georgia added 159 yards on the ground. The teams combined for 108 rushing attempts and completed just six total passes. Rutledge had 12 carries for 74 yards, including the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter. Paul Spivey added 10 carries for 68 yards and Billingsley tacked on six carries for 54 yards and two scores. Defensively, Alabama linebacker Woodrow Lowe had a big game with 17 tackles, one forced fumble and one blocked field goal.
The two teams traded first quarter field goals. Bill Davis put the Tide on the board with a 24-yard kick with 9:54 left in the first quarter. Georgia answered with Danny Leavitt's 54-yard field goal to tie the score at 3-3 with 6:23 left in the first quarter. Alabama extended its lead to 10-3 with just over two minutes left before halftime, when Billingsley capped a 7-play, 47-yard scoring drive with an 8-yard run around left end.
"We had a lot of missed opportunities in the first half," Bryant added. "We blew two touchdowns and had a lot of penalties and that is coaching."
Trailing 13-3 entering the second half, the Bulldogs parlayed a blocked punt into a safety, cutting the UA lead to 13-5. Kirk Price blocked the Gregg Gantt punt through the end zone for the safety with 6:44 left in the third quarter. After the ensuing free kick, Georgia drove to the Alabama 26-yard line before Ricky Davis recovered a fumble by Johnson to end the drive.
The two teams then traded punts before an Alabama fumble set up Georgia with excellent field position at the UA 30-yard line. The Tide defense stiffened and on fourth-and-one from the Tide 21-yard line, Leavitt added a 37-yard field goal with 13:44 left in the game as Georgia pulled to within 13-8. A 35-yard punt return by Klynn Harrison set up the go-ahead touchdown and gave Georgia excellent field position at the UA 33-yard line. The Bulldogs needed just six plays to cover 33 yards and put the go-ahead points on the board with 10:02 left in the game when tailback Jimmy Poulos, who had four carries for 14 yards on the drive, ran up the middle for an 8-yard TD run on first-and-goal. Georgia's pass on its two-point conversion attempt was swatted away by strong safety David McMakin, leaving the Bulldogs with a 14-13 lead.
Alabama missed a 30-yard field goal with 4:33 left in the game, but the defense stood tall and the offense put two touchdowns on the board in the final two minutes to cap a furious rally in a bizarre game.