Taylor's interceptions set up Georgia's winning rally
ATLANTA (AP) -- At 6-4, Georgia's season appeared lost. The Bulldogs' streak of 10-win seasons and top-10 rankings would end at four, and they were facing the real possibility of a losing record.
ESPN Classic will air the 2006 Chick-Fil-A Bowl: Georgia vs. Virginia Tech on Sunday at 9 a.m. ET as the ESPN College Football Game of the Week.
After three straight wins over ranked opponents, including a 31-24 comeback upset of No. 14 Virginia Tech in Saturday night's Chick-fil-A Bowl, Georgia coach Mark Richt had reason to be ecstatic.
"To be where we were, pretty much lost and forgotten, and to beat three ranked teams ... is pretty fantastic," Richt said.
Georgia finished an up-and-down season with three straight victories over ranked teams -- No. 5 Auburn and No. 16 Georgia Tech before the bowl game -- a first for the program.
The Bulldogs (9-4) also found their offensive coordinator for the future while salvaging the season.
New Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo's offense delivered in the second half as Georgia rallied from an 18-point deficit.
The offense, led by freshman quarterback, Matthew Stafford, had help from senior linebacker Tony Taylor, who set up two fourth-quarter touchdowns with interceptions.
Virginia Tech gave up only 9.3 points per game while shutting out four opponents in the regular season, but Georgia scored 28 second-half points to rally from a 21-3 halftime deficit.
"At halftime we said, 'Look, we're down 21-3, but all we need to do is get a couple of first downs," Bobo said. "We knew we were going to have the opportunity to get some guys open deep if we could protect, and we were able to do that."
Stafford was a modest 9-for-21 passing for 129 yards with one touchdown and one interception, but his total included passes of 41 yards to Martrez Milner, 24 yards to Mario Raley and 27 yards to Brannan Southerland.
Only Georgia Tech, which beat Virginia Tech 38-27, scored more points against the Hokies this season.
"Never could I see us having a 21-3 lead and then losing the game," defensive tackle Carlton Powell said. "They definitely got the momentum, and it started snowballing."
Powell called the loss "doubly heartbreaking."
"They kept getting the ball on our side of the field," he said. "It hurts a lot more when you shoot yourself in the foot."
Richt gave Bobo, the quarterbacks coach, play-calling duties before the final regular-season game against Georgia Tech. Bobo was promoted to offensive coordinator this month after Neil Callaway accepted the job as Alabama-Birmingham's head coach.
"[Bobo] had a lot of nerve to make some of the calls he did," Richt said. "It's a little bit unfair to throw it at him late in the season, but he handled it well."
Taylor's interceptions gave the senior linebacker seven for the season and helped Georgia rally after Virginia Tech (10-3) led 21-3 at halftime.
"By the 13th game, I think we should be able to handle business like that," Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said.
Sean Glennon was 13-for-26 passing for 94 yards with three interceptions -- all in the final quarter.
"We threw it to the other team ... and let Georgia back in it," Beamer said.
Stafford threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to Milner in the third quarter and passed to Milner again for a 2-point conversion in the fourth quarter that tied the score 21-21.
Brandon Coutu's third field goal of the game, from 28 yards, gave Georgia a 24-21 lead with 10:42 left in the game. Taylor returned his second interception, on a pass deflected by cornerback Paul Oliver, 15 yards to the Virginia Tech 1. Fullback Brannan Southerland scored on a fourth-down run from the 1 for a 31-21 lead with 7:30 left.
A 28-yard field goal by Virginia Tech's Brandon Pace cut the Bulldogs' lead to 31-24 with 3:41 left.
Virginia Tech got the ball again on its 20 with 1:25 left but was stopped on downs.
Virginia Tech appeared poised for a runaway win with a dominant first half, including 21 points in the second quarter. Branden Ore scored on two short runs and receiver Eddie Royal then threw a 53-yard TD pass to tight end Sam Wheeler on for tjhe Hokies.
Georgia answered with its own big plays. Following Coutu's second field goal, a successful onside kick set up Stafford's touchdown pass to Milner.
Taylor's first interception gave Georgia possession at the Virginia Tech 43 early in the fourth quarter and led to Kregg Lumpkin's 3-yard touchdown run. The 2-point conversion tied the game at 21-21.
Coutu was also good from 39 and 51 in his first game since Sept. 30. He missed the final seven games of the regular season with a hamstring injury.
Virginia Tech defensive end Noland Burchette left the game in the first half after breaking his left arm. The Hokies lost cornerback Brandon Flowers to a sprained right ankle in the third quarter.
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