Slaton's record night stuns pro-Georgia crowd at Sugar Bowl

ATLANTA (AP) -- Georgia had the home-field advantage. West

Virginia had the chip on its shoulder.

Steve Slaton rushed for a record 204 yards and the No. 11

Mountaineers gave a much-needed boost to the beleaguered Big East,

upsetting eighth-ranked Georgia 38-35 Monday night in the first

Nokia Sugar Bowl played outside of New Orleans.

"I think we took to heart some of the criticism of our league

and the fact that no one was predicting us to win," West Virginia

coach Rich Rodriguez said. "Basically, we were playing in their

home environment, their home state."

West Virginia (11-1) stunned all those red-clad fans at the

Georgia Dome by jumping to a 28-0 lead by the opening minute of the

second quarter. The Bulldogs (10-3) rallied, twice closing within a

field goal in the second half, but they couldn't finish one of the

greatest comebacks in bowl history.

Give most of the credit to Slaton, who wasn't even the

Mountaineers' best freshman runner in fall camp and didn't crack

the starting lineup until the sixth game of the season. Georgia

certainly had no answer for the speedy back, who squirted through

big holes and left defenders such as All-American safety Greg Blue

in the dust on a pair of 52-yard touchdown runs.

Slaton scored three touchdowns and eclipsed the previous Sugar

Bowl rushing record, a 202-yard performance by Pitt's Tony Dorsett

in a national championship-clinching victory over Georgia in 1977.

"It was just our speed," Slaton said. "They couldn't match up

with us."

The Mountaineers saved their biggest surprise for the end.

Georgia was poised to get the ball back when West Virginia dropped

back to punt on fourth-and-6 at the Bulldogs 48. Phil Brady hauled

in the long snap but took off running, gaining 10 yards on the fake

and a game-clinching first down.

"We were definitely playing for a return," Georgia coach Mark

Richt said. "We didn't think they would do that. Give them a lot

of credit. It takes a lot of nerve to do that."

The last of Slaton's touchdowns gave the Mountaineers a

seemingly comfortable 38-28 lead with 8½ minutes to go. D.J.

Shockley brought Georgia back with his third touchdown pass, a

43-yarder to Bryan McClendon with 5:33 left, but never got his

hands on the ball again.

The teams combined for 1,003 yards, much of it coming in a wild

first half that ended with the Mountaineers holding a 31-21 lead.

"West Virginia did a heck of a job jumping on us," Richt said.

"The only consolation is we didn't lay down and die."

The 72nd Sugar Bowl was shifted to Atlanta after Hurricane

Katrina slammed into New Orleans, flooding the Big Easy and leaving

the Superdome in no shape to host a Pop Warner game, much less a

major bowl.

While poignant, the Sugar was the least heralded of the BCS

bowls, a distant fourth to the Fiesta matchup between Notre Dame

and Ohio State, the Joe Paterno-vs.-Bobby Bowden showdown at the

Orange and, of course, the national championship game between No. 1

Southern Cal and No. 2 Texas at the Rose Bowl.

But the Fiesta -- a 34-20 romp for Ohio State -- didn't come close

on the excitement meter. And both the Orange and Rose will be

hard-pressed to produce a game this thrilling.

West Virginia also did its part to stymie criticism of the Big

East. OK, so the league isn't as strong since Miami and Virginia

Tech bolted to the Atlantic Coast Conference, but the Mountaineers

proved they're one of the best teams in the country.

They certainly came out with something to prove, facing the

champion of the powerful Southeastern Conference just 75 miles from

its Athens campus.

"I think West Virginia was extremely excited," Richt said.

"They brought a little more emotion in the beginning."

The Mountaineers, who had lost 11 of their last 12 bowl games,

jumped on Georgia with two touchdowns apiece by Slaton and Darius


Slaton showed his speed on the first of his 52-yard runs, which

capped West Virginia's opening possession. His other first-half

score came on an 18-yard burst through a tiny hole, the freshman

prancing across the goal line in front of Blue.

Reynaud caught a 3-yard pass from Pat White, then caught the

Bulldogs off guard on a 13-yard reverse that left all but a couple

of defenders running the wrong way.

But Georgia didn't fold.

Kregg Lumpkin got the Bulldogs on the scoreboard with a 34-yard

touchdown run, sparking a little life in the mostly Georgia crowd.

They were roaring by the time the teams trotted to the locker room,

having cut the deficit to a more manageable 10 points.

Thomas Brown had a 52-yard touchdown run for the Bulldogs,

getting loose after appearing stuffed at the line by the


West Virginia kept the big plays rolling when fullback Owen

Schmitt, a transfer from Division III Wisconsin-River Falls,

rumbled for 54 yards on a third-and-1 play. But the Georgia defense

finally arrived, stuffing Slaton for a 3-yard loss and forcing the

Mountaineers to settle for Pat McAfee's 27-yard field goal.

Georgia reclaimed the momentum before halftime with an 11-play,

80-yard drive. The Bulldogs converted on fourth-and-1 at their own

42, then Shockley bailed them out on third-and-10 by scrambling

away from pressure and delivering a 32-yard pass to Mario Raley.

Shockley followed with a 15-yard run, then connected with

Leonard Pope on a 4-yard touchdown pass with 58 seconds left in the

wild half.

With 62 points by halftime, the teams set both Sugar Bowl and

BCS records for one half. The biggest difference was turnovers;

Shockley and Danny Ware both fumbled the ball away, and the

Mountaineers capitalized each time with TDs.

Late in the third quarter, Shockley tossed a 34-yard touchdown

to A.J. Bryant, pulling the Bulldogs to 31-28. They never got any


Shockley completed 20-of-33 passes for 277 yards and also rushed

for 71 yards on eight carries.

But it wasn't enough against West Virginia, which ripped through

the Bulldogs for 382 yards rushing. Schmitt had 82 yards on the

ground, while White rushed for 77 and completed 11-of-14 yards for

another 120 yards.

"They just ran their offense," Richt said, "and they ran it

to perfection."