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Bulldogs a win away from SEC championship game

11/9/2002

ATHENS, Ga. (AP) -- It was a night of comebacks for Georgia.

The Bulldogs (No. 8 ESPN/USA Today, No. 7 AP) bounced back from their first loss
of the season. Terrence Edwards forgot about that dropped pass. And
Fred Gibson put an injured thumb out of his mind.

Edwards caught a 33-yard touchdown pass, Fred Gibson hauled in a
17-yarder and Georgia held on to beat Mississippi 31-17 Saturday
night. Once again, the Bulldogs moved within one victory of
clinching a spot in the Southeastern Conference championship game.

"It's a special opportunity,'' offensive tackle Jon Stinchcomb
said. "It's not very often that you have a second chance at a
missed opportunity.''

Georgia (9-1, 6-1), which hasn't won an SEC title since 1982,
wasted its first chance to clinch the Eastern Division by losing to
Florida 20-13. The Bulldogs will try to get it right when they
travel to Auburn next Saturday.

"It's always a big game for us anyway,'' Stinchcomb said,
referring to the South's oldest rivalry. "When you realize what's
at stake, there's a lot of meaning for us next week.''

Edwards, who was vilified for dropping a potential touchdown
with 2½ minutes remaining against Florida, bounced back to catch
five passes for 90 yards. But the night ended with a downer: He
separated his left shoulder attempting to make a diving catch and
will be out three-to-six weeks.

"Terrence doesn't let things get to him,'' Gibson said. "I
think the crowd owes him a lot. Most of the time, Terrence is going
to be out there making big plays.''

On his touchdown catch, Edwards used a brilliant stop-and-go
move to lose the defender, giving Georgia a 14-point cushion with
1:41 left in the third quarter. The Bulldogs ran out the clock by
holding the ball for the final 10:46.

Gibson had missed the last two games with an injured left thumb,
but he didn't wait long to make an impact upon his return. The
sophomore brought back the opening kickoff 44 yards, sparking
Georgia's first touchdown drive.

On the receiving end, Gibson corralled a 53-yard pass for
Georgia's longest play of the game, and he also made a remarkable
one-handed grab in the third quarter that set up a field goal by
Billy Bennett.

The touchdown play wasn't too bad itself. Gibson caught a slant
coming across the middle, stopped suddenly at the 10 and reversed
direction, losing the defender and cruising into the end zone to
put Georgia ahead to stay at 21-14 with 1:49 left in the first
half.

"You have more respect for the game when you don't play for two
weeks,'' said coach Mark Richt, who demoted Gibson earlier in the
season because he wasn't working hard enough. "You get hungry. He
was hungry at practice all week. He really wanted to play.''

Ole Miss (5-5, 2-4), meanwhile, just about ruined any bowl hopes
with its first four-game losing streak since 1994.

"It is difficult in the midst of this losing streak to maintain
our emotions,'' coach David Cutcliffe said. "It was hard to watch
the last 10 minutes,when Georgia kept making those third downs.''

Eli Manning had another disappointing game. The junior
quarterback Manning was 12 of 25 for just 176 yards. He also had
two interceptions, including one that was returned 64 yards for a
Georgia touchdown by Tim Jennings.

"They had a good game plan,'' Manning said. "They had a very
good pass rush, and their defensive ends are very active. They have
a lot of athletes. Their cornerbacks were better than I expected.''

Manning has eight interceptions in the last four games after
getting picked off just three times in the first six.

"The first half, we were running a lot of zone, mixing it up,''
said Bruce Thornton, who also had an interception. "In the second
half, we played more man. We made him hold the ball the ball a
little longer. You could tell their timing was off.''

Georgia quarterback David Greene, playing all but one series,
bounced back from a mediocre performance against Florida to
complete 12 of 22 passes for 206 yards and two TDs.

Musa Smith handled things on the ground, carrying the ball a
career-high 37 times for a season-high 148 yards.

Georgia scored on its opening drive as J.T. Wall powered over
from the 1 to give the Bulldogs a 7-0 lead less than four minutes
into the game. Ole Miss, rediscovering a running game that had been
dormant the previous three weeks, tied it up on Tremaine Turner's
8-yard touchdown run.

Turner, who wasn't even listed on the depth chart, ran for 89
yards, including a 1-yard score that pulled the Rebels into a 14-14
tie.

Edwards wasn't the only Georgia player to go down. Linebacker
Boss Bailey, a Lombardi and Butkus award candidate, left the game
just before halftime with a sprained right knee. It wasn't known
how long he might be out.