By Staff Published 01/03/2006 20:56:00 | Views: 3663
Tight end Martrez Milner reflects Georgia's disappointment as he watches at the end. Georgia came into the game ranked No. 8 but will probably drop out of the top 10 in Thursday's final poll.

College football is about moments.

Some you seize. Some slip past. And some speed by so fast they are gone before you even knew they were there.

Georgia had one of those whiplash moments Monday night. West Virginia raced past the Bulldogs in a flash, and before they knew it, their season and some of their careers came to an end. It all happened so fast, 38-35 in front of 74,458 at the Nokia Sugar Bowl in the Georgia Dome.

And then the No. 11 Mountaineers (11-1) were gone. Back to the conference that had been so belittled, leaving the big, bullish SEC team wide-eyed and teary-eyed.

This isn't the way it was supposed to end for No. 8 Georgia (10-3), especially not for D.J. Shockley, the player who gave four years to play one.

This was to be his, and their, ultimate moment. But history refuses to play favorites. It will also never be changed. No matter what happened, Shockley and Georgia will never forget how their careers ended. This loss may dim but probably won't darken the shine on their careers.

"It's gonna hurt," Shockley said. "It's going to take a long time to get over. But it's not what I'm, and what we're, going to be remembered for.

"I still have no regrets. I'd do everything the same again."

For the Mountaineers, their star has just appeared on the horizon. This win will push West Virginia into the preseason consciousness of the voters. The fact quarterback Pat White and running back Steve Slaton will be sophomores may catapult the Mountaineers into the top five.

"No, that was just us," Georgia senior safety Greg Blue said. "They're not top 10."

It was the duo of White and Slaton who not only turned Georgia's defense around, but inside out. The Mountaineers rushed for 202 yards in the first half. Georgia had allowed only two other teams to rush for 200 or more yards. And it took both those teams — Auburn and Arkansas — a full game to do it.

Slaton, who finished with a Sugar Bowl record 204 yards on 26 rushes, had two 52-yard touchdown runs — one to open the game, the other to put it away.

"It was embarrassing," Georgia senior defensive lineman Kedric Golston said. "They came out and slapped us in the face."

Basically, West Virginia did everything right. Georgia didn't know its right from left. When Slaton high-stepped into the end zone for the Mountaineers' fourth straight score to open the game, suddenly the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl started to seem like an entertaining game. At least in that one, someone put up a fight.

Georgia finally did, too. Everybody knew Shockley would. You don't wait as long as he did to quit.

Shockley and the offense wiped its bloodied lip and jabbed back. The senior hit four straight passes and Kregg Lumpkin hit the hole like it had insulted him. Thirty-four yards later, Georgia finally had taken the first step in an ascent that still looked too steep to climb. Two more touchdowns and suddenly the summit started to peek through. Although it was still a long way off and Georgia was running out of oxygen.

But momentum was now on Georgia's side.

The Georgia defense was briefly transformed from a speed bump to a roadblock. The offense, so utterly lacking in direction for the first quarter, moved with authority. The partisan crowd went from tears in their beers, to cheers. Hope, mixed with alcohol, is a dangerous thing.

So too, as it turned out, was Shockley. True, there are players who refuse to lose. It appeared as if he even refused to consider it until it became unavoidable as the clock hit zeroes early Tuesday morning.

Before that, Shockley, who hit 20 of 33 passes for 277 yards with three touchdowns, continued to dispense glimmers of hope.

Take the seven-play, 90-yard play late in the fourth to bring Georgia within 38-35. Shockley passed 43 yards to Bryan McClendon to end the drive.

Or take the 11-play, 80-yard touchdown drive he conducted before half. Faced with a third-and-10, Shockley went one way, then another, took off, pulled up and connected on a 32-yard pass to Mario Raley.

Later, in the third, it was Shockley on third-and-7 around the edge — no wait, through the middle; no wait, back to the edge — for 21 yards and a first down.

As if that weren't enough, the next play A.J. Bryant found the ball in his possession in the end zone after a 34-yard pass from Shockley.

Georgia was within 31-28. A stop was all it seemed Georgia needed.

"Once he settled in, he played fantastic," Georgia coach Mark Richt said of Shockley. "He's just poised, kept us in the game and I'm just real proud of the job that he did."

West Virginia never would stop, though. Slaton capped a 95-yard drive with a 52-yard touchdown run up the middle for a 10-point lead with 8:32 to play. The Mountaineers just couldn't be caught — on the scoreboard or the field. White and Slaton grabbed every corner they wanted, sidestepped for extra yards and even lowered their shoulders a time or two.

And just when the Bulldogs thought they knew what was coming, White would connect on a pass. He finished 11 of 13 for 120 yards.

For all those in the SEC wondering just what the spread offense could do in a conference predicated on defensive speed and superiority, this was it. Georgia was fourth in the country in scoring defense (14.58 points allowed per game). West Virginia more than doubled that average in the first half.

On top of that, the Mountaineers outwitted Georgia. Just when the Bulldogs thought they had another chance late in the fourth, WVU called for and converted a fourth-and-6 fake punt to keep the ball and take the game.

"It was very heartbreaking to say that you lost your last game, but I think for the seniors we accomplished a lot," Georgia senior cornerback DeMario Minter said. "I know what we accomplished is not going to erase this loss, but we can say we did some good things in our careers."

By Staff 01/03/2006 20:56:00

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