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A perfect night, a big win and a tragic ending

By Walter Geiger It was a perfect night for a big time college football game Saturday in Athens. The day dawned cold and got progressively colder. It was a day to dig out two layers of long underwear, sweaters and fleece. Our youngest, Livia Lanier, and I made the drive to the Classic City early in the afternoon. The Dogs were on the road, banners flying and metallic signs affixed. We arrived and nestled the Jeep under some trees close by our secret exit ramp that is not much of a secret anymore. The short thoroughfare, open only on football weekends, goes directly to the Athens bypass. It is a hike to the stadium and back but getting on the road is a snap. We spent some considerable time at a huge tailgate party thrown by the brothers of ATO at the Miller Learning Center. There we mingled with the firstborn, May Melton, and her cousin, Will, a Benedictine Cadet up from Savannah for the weekend. We stopped by the Griffin tailgate extravaganza and then entered Sanford Stadium where the Dogs would battle the hated Auburn Tigers. We patted the bronze UGA at the mascot mausoleum and settled into our seats 12 rows behind the UGA bench on the 35-yard line. There are seats in our section but no one uses them except during timeouts. We all stand the entire game. We always have and I guess we will until age benches us. I have not always hated Auburn. For years they were more like that cousin you see once a year. I tolerated them. The dirty play of Nick Fairley and the recruitment of thieves/quarterbacks Cam Newton and Nick Marshall convinced me of what friends had preached for years: Auburn does not run a clean football program. Georgia was a slight favorite when the game began but Auburn drove down the field on their opening possession, making it look easy as they took a sevenpoint lead. Those points would be their last. Back for the ensuing kick was Todd Gurley, the once Heisman frontrunner suspended four games for selling his autograph. He took the kick six yards deep in his end zone and went all the way but the TD was called back on a penalty. Still, Gurley had served notice. He and his team had come to play. At a critical point, UGA head coach Mark Richt uncharacteristically went for it on fourth down. The result was a TD and you knew then it was Georgia’s night. The black-clad UGA fans were loud and boisterous. Jeremy Pruitt’s defense shut down Marshall who once was a Dog before being expelled for stealing from his own teammates. The Dog lead grew larger. The bitter cold was forgotten. Georgia’s freshman tailback Nick Chubb, who flourished in Gurley’s absence and will win a Heisman if he stays healthy, ran for 144 yards and two touchdowns. Pruitt’s defense countered everything the Tigers threw at them. There would be no freak occurrence on a hail mary to save Auburn this time out. Gurley ran for 138 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries. Sadly, his last was for six yards and a torn ACL. His career at Georgia is likely over. Gurley, who bore his NCAA crime and sentence with class and grace, went down on the night of his triumphant return. It was a sad ending to a big 34-7 win on an otherwise perfect day. Walter Geiger is editor and publisher of The Herald Gazette and Pike County Journal Reporter.

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