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.
On the next possession, a scrambling Ball fumbled after being hit by defensive end Marcus Howard. There was a scrum for the ball, but Tony 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.
GEORGIA POST-GAME NOTES NOV. 25, 2006?GA. TECH GAME
ANOTHER PIECE OF HISTORY: With the 15-12 victory, the Bulldogs became the first unranked Georgia squad to defeat a ranked Ga. Tech squad in series history. The Yellow Jackets, ranked No. 16, were 8-0 in these matchups. The Bulldogs finish the regular season with an 8-4 mark with two straight wins over ranked opponents. Last time out, Georgia thrashed #5 Auburn on the Plains 37-15. Prior to today, the last time Georgia won back-to-back games against ranked opponents was 2002 when the Bulldogs beat #22 Arkansas for the SEC title and then #16 Florida State in the Nokia Sugar Bowl.
*THE GEORGIA-GA. TECH SERIES: Georgia won its sixth straight in the series and retained the Governor's Cup Trophy. Today's meeting was the 99th in the rivalry, and with the 15-12 victory, the Bulldogs lead 58-36-5.
Prior to today, the last time Georgia was blanked in the first half by the Yellow Jackets was 1995 as it fell behind 14-0 and then rallied to win 18-17 in Atlanta. Today marked the first time since 1990 that Tech entered the game ranked while the Bulldogs were not. The three-point margin of victory was the slimmest since 1997 when the Bulldogs posted a 27-24 win in Atlanta.
60th WIN FOR RICHT: With today's win, head coach Mark Richt earned his 60th win as a Bulldog including 6-0 over Georgia Tech. Richt is one of seven other coaches who have won at least 60 games in their first six seasons. He is 60-17 (.779) which ranks as the fifth best winning percentage among active coaches. Richt is now 24-2 against nonconference foes including 17-0 at home. It was also Georgia's 10th victory when tied or trailing in the fourth quarter.
*STAFFORD: Freshman QB Matt Stafford (16-for-29, 171 yards, 1 TD) improved to 5-2 as a starter and now has his second straight win over a ranked opponent. He engineered the Bulldogs longest drive of the season, a game-winner that took 7:05 and covered 64 yards on 12 plays. The previous long was 6:59 (12 plays, 80 yards) versus Auburn. The drive was capped by a four-yard TD strike to Mohamed Massaquoi (6 rec., 46 yards, 1 TD) who also caught a twopoint conversion try. It was the first successful conversion for the Bulldogs since 2001 when David Greene hit Randy McMichael for one against Kentucky that tied the game at 22-apiece en route to a 43-29 Bulldog win here.
*TAYLOR SCORES ANOTHER TD: Senior WLB Tony Taylor scored his second TD of the season, this one on a 29-yard fumble return for a TD. Earlier this year, he returned an interception 24 yards for a TD against Vanderbilt. Before today, the last time a Bulldog scored on a fumble return was 2003 when Sean Jones took one back 92 yards against Tennessee in Knoxville.
OLIVER GETS ANOTHER PICK: Junior cornerback Paul Oliver notched his 3rd interception of the year and seventh of his career. It preserved the win much like his fourth quarter INT in the 14-9 road win over Ole Miss this season. Oliver was matched up on Tech All-America wideout Calvin Johnson for much of the night and limited him to two catches for 13 yards and no TDs.
NO POINTS IN THE FIRST HALF, NO PROBLEM: For the fourth time this season, Georgia was shutout in the first half (Colorado, Ole Miss and Florida), and the Bulldogs are now 3-1 in these games. Georgia trailed CU 10-0 and won 14-13; trailed Ole Miss 3-0 and won 14-9; trailed Florida 14-0 and lost 21-14. Today, the Bulldogs fell behind 3-0.
*POINTS OFF TURNOVERS: UGA got 7 points off 3 Yellow Jacket miscues (Reggie Ball INT off Quentin Moses tipped pass, caught by Jarvis Jackson; Ball fumble caused by Marcus Howard, returned by Tony Taylor for a TD; Ball INT by Paul Oliver) while Ga. Tech got 3 points off 1 Bulldog turnover (fumbled snap) at the Georgia 13. Tech lost five yards on three plays and settled for a 35-yard FG. Georgia has scored 76 points off 26 turnovers while opponents have 65 points off 29 Bulldog miscues.
*COIN TOSS/OPENING DRIVE: Georgia Tech won the coin toss and took the football, only the second team to do that this season, the other was Western Kentucky in the season opener. The Bulldog defense forced both teams to punt before getting a first down. Auburn and Kentucky won the toss and deferred while the Bulldogs won every other coin toss and deferred. Georgia forced nine of its opponents to punts on opening drives while Colorado missed a field goal, UK got a field goal and Florida scored a TD. The Bulldogs scored on their opening drive just four times, getting a touchdown versus Auburn and UAB and field goals at South Carolina and versus Tennessee.
*STARTERS: Senior center Nick Jones made his team-leading 31st-straight start and 41st of his career. Senior OT Daniel Inman started his team-high 47th career game, which ranks in a tie for second most among non-kickers in school history with former offensive lineman Kevin Breedlove (1999-02). Former Bulldog quarterback David Greene (01-04) holds the mark with 52 starts.
*INJURY UPDATE: Senior split tackle Ken Shackleford injured his left ankle in the first quarter and did not return.
GEORGIA TECH NOTES ? Georgia Tech vs. Georgia November 25, 2006 ~ Sanford Stadium, Athens, Ga.
Tech's 9-3 regular-season record is its best since the 2000 season (also 9-3), and its ACC mark of 7-1 is its best since 1998. The Yellow Jackets will meet either Wake Forest or Maryland in next week's ACC Championship game in Jacksonville, Fla.
Reggie Ball made his 48th career start for the Yellow Jackets Saturday against Georgia, giving him sole possession of second place on Georgia Tech's all-time list. With two more starts (ACC Championship game next week and a bowl game), he will tie linebacker Recardo Wimbush (1999-02) for the all-time Tech record with 50.
Punter Durant Brooks, who leads the nation in net punting and is sixth in gross average, punted five times for a 44.6-yard average in the first half, including that finished inside the 20-yard line and two of 50 yards or more. For the season, 33 of his 70 punts have been downed inside the opponent's 20-yard line, and 23 have traveled 50 yards or more. Brooks is a finalist for the Ray Guy Award, given to the nation's best punter.
Tech shut out an opponent in the first half for the third time Saturday. Virginia (a 24-7 win) and North Carolina (7-0 win) were the others.
Tashard Choice had 146 yards on 23 carries against Georgia, giving him 1,204 yards for the season. He moved from eighth on the Tech season yardage list to fourth today, passing C.J. Williams (1,138 in 1995), Joe Burns (1,165 yards in 2001), and Robert Lavette twice (1,189 yards in 1984 and 1,208 yards in 1982).
In Saturday's game, Tech netted 85 yards on its three scoring possessions, and Choice picked up 61 of those yards on the ground, including 35 of 64 yards on the Jackets' lone TD drive.
Choice posted his fifth consecutive 100-yard game and seventh in the last eight games. His seven 100-yard games this season tie the second-most in Tech history (Robert Lavette in 1982, Jerry Mays in 1989), one shy of the Tech record of eight held by Eddie Lee Ivery in 1978. The five straight 100-yard efforts have been eclipsed only once (Ivery in 1978).
Choice's 23 attempts against Georgia gave him 249 for the season, the sixth-most in Tech history. His 10 rushing touchdowns are one of the 10 best totals in Tech history.
Tech set season lows Saturday for pass completions (6) and yards (42). The six completions were also the second-fewest for a Tech team in a game from the 1980 season to the present (5 vs. Tennessee in a 1986 tie in Knoxville were the fewest), and the 42 yards were the fewest for that period of time save for the 19 yards Tech had against Tulsa in the 2004 Humanitarian Bowl (2003 season).
Tech opponents have only 11 touchdowns in 29 red-zone penetrations this year, but one was the game-winning score by Georgia today. Georgia Tech's defense turned back Georgia's first red-zone penetration of the game. The Bulldogs achieved a first-and-goal on the Tech nine following an interception, but lost a yard on three plays and missed a 27-yard field goal.
Tech's defense has allowed just 19 touchdowns in 12 games this season, and have held seven foes, including Georgia, to one offensive TD or less. The Bulldogs' other TD today was a fumble return.
Tech's defense held Georgia to 84 net yards rushing Saturday, the 34th time in 62 games under defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta that the Yellow Jackets have held an opponent under 100 yards on the ground. Tech is 26-8 in those games. This season, the Jackets have held nine of 12 foes under 100 yards, but today was the first time Tech lost a game while doing so.
Defensive tackle Joe Anoai recovered a fumble in the opponent's territory for the second straight game. Saturday, his recovery gave the Yellow Jackets the ball at the Georgia 13, setting up a 35-yard Travis Bell field goal for a 3-0 Tech lead in the second quarter.
Georgia Tech has allowed five non-offensive touchdowns this season ? two kickoff returns, two fumble returns (including the one by Georgia) and an interception return.
Travis Bell converted his sixth and seventh straight field goals attempts Saturday, kicking from 35 and 24 yards. Bell's last miss came at Clemson on Oct. 21, and he is 10-of-15 for the season.
Georgia Tech's six straight losses in the series to Georgia is surpassed only by the seven-game streak that occurred from 1991-97. The Bulldogs have won 13 of the last 16 meetings. The Jackets have failed to score more than one touchdown in seven of those 13 losses.
GEORGIA COACH/PLAYER QUOTES
Head Coach Mark Richt:
"This is a huge win for us. The last two games have been very big. We had a lot of people doubting us and have had a lot of trouble. Everybody stayed strong. Everybody stayed motivated. Everybody stayed together. I will never forget the job they did."
"Paul Oliver was guarding the most talented wide receiver in the U.S. He did a wonderful job on him. He also made the play that helped us win in the end. Paul did a beautiful job all day long." "We put that last drive together, but Matthew (Stafford) had to make the plays happen which is what he did. Mohamed (Massaquoi) did a beautiful job during that drive making those catches."
"We really moved the ball decent in the first half, but had some penalties and dropped balls. Georgia Tech's defense was good, but we shot ourselves in the foot."
"Kregg (Lumpkin) and Danny (Ware) were both stinging a little bit, but kept going back in and fighting. They did a beautiful job not only rushing the ball, but also in pass protection. They both had a great game."
Sophomore receiver Mohamed Massaquoi:
"We just wanted to show people that two weeks ago wasn't a fluke. That last play felt good and 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."
Senior Rover Tra Battle:
"The secondary and the defense did just what was called for tonight. We have been up some and down some this year, but this was a great way to cap it off. We did all you can ask for on the last stop."
Freshman Quarterback Matthew Stafford:
"Paul Oliver and the defense kept us in it. They have played tough all season and it was nice to end off the year with that. I am especially really happy for Paul after that last play." "We were moving the ball well and Ware was doing a great job. There was also good play calling and Mo and Danny made it easy on me. It just felt great. The O-line really protected us as well."
Junior corner Paul Oliver:
"Calvin is definitely one of the best playmakers in the country. I'm just proud of the whole team." "It says a lot about these Georgia teams that we have been able to beat them six times in a row."
GEORGIA TECH COACH/PLAYER QUOTES
Head Coach Chan Gailey:
(On the winning Georgia drive) "They made a couple of clutch plays and a big third down play. Stafford handled things when he had to. Our team is taking the loss hard, bad.
(On the offensive scheme and strategy) Reggie (Ball) did not play as well as he did in games past. I think he competes hard. Calvin was double-teamed most of the day. We just missed him on a couple of deep balls. When we miss those we have a hard time winning. Throw some, run some and keep Georgia offbalance, that was the plan on the outset. I didn't think he (Reggie) was in sync, Georgia kept him off-balance.
(On Tech's special teams play) "I thought our special teams played really well today other than the one kickoff return that went out to the 30-yard line."
"Both teams played hard tonight. We had a bunch of unfortunate breaks and a few questionable calls. Having said that, we still had a good chance to win the game and we let it go."
"It is hard to swallow a loss right now. We played our hearts out tonight, one dive there, one drop here, one call there and it is all down the drain. It is not a good feeling right now, especially being a senior. It's a tough loss."
Quarterback Reggie Ball:
"We never expected to go into a game and score 12 points, that sure wasn't in the game plan. Sometimes things don't go your way. It's a game of inches."
(Thoughts on whether he puts added emphasis on playing well against UGA)
"I want to win every game. I don't buy into the whole rivalry game idea. I don't care if it is a team of old ladies playing flag football, I want to win."