ATHENS — It has gone down in Auburn annals as “The Prayer at Jordan-Hare.” The Georgia Bulldogs have some other names for it, none of which are suitable for print.
We are, of course, talking about the miraculous 73-yard touchdown pass from Nick Marshall, exiled Georgia Bulldog, to Ricardo Louis, to beat Georgia 43-38 in November of 2013. The desperation play should have ended in a routine bat-down on fourth-and-a-mile-to-go with 25 seconds to go. Instead it became a play that will forever live in UGA infamy.
That’s what happened the last time the Bulldogs visited the “Loveliest Village on the Plain.” They’ll make their first return trip since this Saturday at noon as the two teams renew the Deep South’s oldest football rivalry.
“I’m excited to go back over there,” said senior defensive end Sterling Bailey, who was on the field for that fateful play two years ago. “It’s my last year and I can’t even find the words to explain it, honestly. I can’t wait to get back over there because we left something over there. I still think about it from time to time.”
Since then, the two Georgia players most culpable for the late-game failure — safeties Tray Matthews and Josh Harvey-Clemons — were dismissed by the the school for various conduct-code violations. Harvey-Clemons followed Georgia’s defensive coordinator that day — Todd Grantham — over to Louisville.
Matthews, as it turns out, landed with Auburn. He was a starting safety until an ankle injury sidelined him two weeks ago. His status for this week’s game was uncertain as of Monday.
Lost in all the negative memories of that day was the incredible comeback Georgia had made to take the lead. The Bulldogs were down 20 before rallying behind quarterback Aaron Murray for three fourth-quarter touchdowns to take the lead.
“It was a heck of a comeback, and then they had that play,” senior tackle John Theus said. “That would’ve been quite the comeback.”
Auburn faced fourth-and-18 at its own 23 when Marshall lined up for what was expected to be a token heave. He threw a high-arcing aerial for Louis running a skinny post down the middle of the field. He was double-covered by Matthews and Harvey-Clemons, each of whom had a play on the ball. But Harvey-Clemons bumped Matthews from behind just as Matthews went to intercept the pass. The ball bounced forward off Matthews’ chest and straight up the field into Louis’ hands. He trotted into the end zone after Harvery-Clemons and Matthews both fell to the ground.
“When I saw him throw the ball, I turned my head and said to myself, ‘OK, we’re going to knock this down,” Bailey recalled. “And then I seen it hit and (Louis) kept running. And I was like … it just took all the breath out of me.”
The Bulldogs’ feelings about Matthews vary, now that he’s on the other sideline.
“If I see him I’ll say hey,” Theus said. “But I don’t think I’ve spoke with him since he left.”
Said Bailey: “It is what it is. I have no comment.”