Tigers Fall to No. 6 Bulldogs, 26-7
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Tigers Fall to No. 7 Bulldogs, 26-7

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November 15, 2003

Action - Karlos Dansby 111503

 Karlos Dansby

ATHENS, Ga. (AP) -- Georgia stayed on track to repeat as Southeastern Conference champion by doing something unusual -- beating Auburn between the hedges.

Michael Johnson caught a 19-yard touchdown pass and Odell Thurman finished off Auburn with a 99-yard interception return, leading the No. 7 Bulldogs to a 26-7 victory Saturday.

The Bulldogs (8-2, 5-2 SEC) defeated Auburn (6-5, 4-3) at Sanford Stadium for the first time since 1991 and only the third time in the past 14 meetings at Georgia's home field.

Johnson re-created one of the most memorable plays in Georgia history -- a 19-yard touchdown catch that beat Auburn a year ago, clinching the SEC East for the Bulldogs.

Only this time, Johnson didn't wait till a fourth-down play with 1:25 remaining. He hauled in this 19-yarder from David Greene midway through the second quarter, giving Georgia a 13-0 lead.

The way the defense was playing, that was enough points.

Auburn's last gasp came early in the fourth quarter, when the Tigers drove to the Georgia 3. On third-and-goal, Jason Campbell rolled right and caught a glimpse of Courtney Taylor open in the back of the end zone.

But the pass was tipped by Tony Taylor and Thurman grabbed it out of the air at the 1. He didn't stop running until he was in the opposite end zone -- the second-longest interception return in school history. Charlie Britt had a 100-yarder against Florida in 1959.

The Deep South's oldest rivalry -- the teams were meeting for the 107th time -- has been known for close finishes in recent years. In 2000, the Tigers won in overtime. In 2001, Auburn stuffed Jasper Sanks at the 1 on the last play of the game to preserve a 24-17 victory.

Last year, Georgia needed Greene's improbable pass to Johnson to win the division championship. The Bulldogs went on to capture their first SEC title in 20 years and finish No. 3 nationally.

Georgia can clinch a tie for the East championship with a victory over Kentucky next week. Florida claimed at least a share of the title with a 24-22 victory over South Carolina on Saturday, while Tennessee is in position to make it a three-way deadlock.

Under that scenario -- assuming Georgia beats non-conference foe Georgia Tech on Nov. 29 -- the Bulldogs would likely win the tiebreaker and advance to the SEC championship game.

Auburn squandered great field position at the end of the first half, starting its final two possessions at the Georgia 37 and 47. All the Tigers got out of it was a 60-yard field-goal try by Phillip Yost, which fell far short.

When Yost missed a 25-yarder on Auburn's first drive of the second half, the Tigers were done. Kregg Lumpkin scored on a 16-yard run to make it 19-0, the Bulldogs catching Auburn off guard by handing off on third-and-goal.

Auburn was held to 259 yards. Carnell Williams went over 1,000 yards for the season, but Cadillac was held to just 45 yards on 12 carries by the Bulldogs.

Campbell scored on a 6-yard run with three minutes left, but all that did was prevent Auburn from getting shut out by the Bulldogs for the first time since 1976.

Billy Bennett kicked a pair of field goals, tying Philip Doyle's SEC career record of 78. But Bennett also missed an extra point, ending a streak of 113 in a row that was the nation's longest active run.