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Stafford stars as Georgia beats Georgia Tech again

Nov 26, 2006 - 12:08 AM ATHENS, Georgia (Ticker) -- Matthew Stafford showed the poise that Reggie Ball lacked.

Stafford capped the go-ahead drive with a four-yard touchdown pass to Mohamed Massaquoi with 1:45 remaining as Georgia again retained the Governor's Cup with a 15-12 victory over No. 16 Georgia Tech.

Tony Taylor returned a fumble for a touchdown for the Bulldogs (8-4), whose season has been on a seesaw. Georgia won its first five games, lost four of five and has won two in a row behind Stafford, who began the campaign on the bench.

"The last two games have been very big," said Georgia coach Mark Richt, who notched his 60th win at the school. "We had a lot of people doubting us and have had a lot of trouble. Everybody stayed strong. Everybody stayed motivated."

A true freshman, Stafford completed 16-of-29 passes for 171 yards and a TD without an interception. He outplayed Ball, a dual-threat senior who was off the mark all day and will have to bounce back next week.

"We never expected to go into a game and score 12 points; that sure wasn't in the game plan," Ball said. "Sometimes things don't go your way."

A 10-yard touchdown run by Tashard Choice gave Georgia Tech (9-3) a 12-7 lead with 8:50 remaining. Stafford calmly engineered a 12-play, 64-yard drive that consumed more than seven minutes, going 4-of-4 for 35 yards.

"Matthew had to make the plays happen, which is what he did," Richt said. "Mohamed did a beautiful job during that drive."

"Stafford handled things when he had to," Georgia Tech coach Chan Gailey said.

The Bulldogs had 1st-and-goal at the 4 before the Yellow Jackets twice stuffed Danny Ware for no gain. On third down, Stafford dropped to pass, pump-faked and found the open Massaquoi in the back of the end zone. He rolled out and hit Massaquoi with the conversion pass.

"We were moving the ball well and Ware was doing a great job," Stafford said. "It just felt great. The O-line really protected us well."

"That last play (TD) felt good," Massaquoi said. "We had watched a lot of film and thought the corner would do that. I ran a stutter-and-go and it worked to perfection."

On the next possession, Ball had a pass dropped and threw an eight-yard completion before taking a sack and setting up fourth down. A personal foul gave him a reprieve, but he threw into triple coverage on star receiver Calvin Johnson and was picked off by Paul Oliver.

"Calvin is definitely one of the best playmakers in the country," Oliver said.

"Paul Oliver was guarding the most talented wide receiver in the U.S.," Richt said. "He did a wonderful job on him."

Ball was just 6-of-22 for 42 yards and two interceptions and a costly fumble. He was unable to hook up for a big play with Johnson, overthrowing him on what would have been a certain TD in the fourth quarter.

"Calvin was double-teamed most of the day," Gailey said. "We just missed him on a couple of deep balls. When we miss those, we have a hard time winning."

The Bulldogs have won six straight meetings in the rivalry - all under Richt - and improved to 58-36-5 in the all-time series.

"It says a lot about these Georgia teams that we have been able to beat them six times in a row," Oliver said.

"I want to win every game," Ball said. "I don't buy into that whole rivalry game idea. I don't care if it is a team of old ladies playing flag football. I want to win."

Massaquoi caught six passes for 46 yards and Ware and Kregg Lumpkin combined for 92 yards on 29 carries for Georgia, which awaits a bowl berth.

Choice had 146 yards on 23 carries but Johnson was held to two catches for 13 yards for Georgia Tech, which will face Wake Forest or Maryland in next week's Atlantic Coast Conference title game, with a BCS berth on the line.

The game's first two scores came off fumbles.

Stafford lost the ball on bad center exchange and the recovery was made by linebacker Philip Wheeler at the Georgia 12. But Ball misfired with Johnson in the end zone, and Georgia Tech settled for Travis Bell's 35-yard kick with 11:05 left in the second quarter.

In the third period, Ball had his rollout pass deflected by defensive end Quentin Moses and picked off by linebacker Jarvis Jackson. But Gordon Ely-Kelso missed a 25-yard field goal.

On the next possession, a scrambling Ball fumbled after being hit by defensive end Marcus Howard. There was a scrum for the ball, but Taylor somehow pried it loose without going to the ground and scampered 29 yards for a touchdown that gave Georgia a 7-3 lead with 3:10 left in the period.

After Jamaal Evans returned the ensuing kickoff 53 yards, Choice had a 24-yard run inside the 10. But Ball twice threw incomplete to Johnson before Bell's 24-yard kick made it a one-point game entering the final period.

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