MOMENT No. 2
- The game: Georgia at Notre Dame, Sept. 9, 2017, South Bend, Ind.
- The moment: A massive UGA crowd followed the Bulldogs to Notre Dame Stadium and witnessed a 20-19 victory that will go down as an all-time classic.
- Key player or players: Jake Fromm, Terry Godwin, Javon Wims, Davin Bellamy, Lorenzo Carter, Roquan Smith, Rodrigo Blankenship
- What it meant: Before the nationally-televised game between Top 25 opponents, no one was quite sure what kind of teams Georgia or Notre Dame had. The victory proved the Bulldogs could be national contenders and that the offense wouldn’t regress behind the freshman Fromm, making his first career start at quarterback in place of the injured Jacob Eason.
ATHENS — It was the first indication that there might be a little magic dust sprinkled on the 2017 football season.
Heading to Notre Dame and that much-anticipated meeting with the Fighting Irish, nobody could be quite sure what would be in store for the Georgia Bulldogs. Georgia fans just knew they were excited about the prospects, especially about playing in South Bend for the first time in school history.
The game represented the first meeting between the Bulldogs and Notre Dame since they’d met for the national championship in the Sugar Bowl 37 years earlier. Georgia, of course, won that last one 17-10 to secure the school’s second consensus national title and fifth overall. But nobody was quite sure what either team had in 2017.
The Bulldogs were coming off a very pedestrian and some might say a disappointing first season under coach Kirby Smart, in which they finished 8-5. The Fighting Irish had even a worse year, finishing 4-8 to fully crank up the heat on coach Brian Kelly. And there wasn’t much to go on just yet, with Notre Dame opening against Temple and Georgia against Appalachian State.
What’s more, Georgia was coming in without its heralded starting quarterback. Jacob Eason, the former 5-star prospect who had started all but the first game as a freshman, injured his left knee 8½ minutes into the Bulldogs’ 31-10 win over the Mountaineers. Sure, his freshman understudy had done a decent enough job in that game, passing for 143 yards a touchdown in the stress-free win. But that wasn’t against a Power 5 opponent.
This was different. This was a nationally-televised night game on the road against Notre Dame, where echoes had been awakened time and again over the decades. Georgia came in as a slight underdog to the Irish, even though it held the higher national ranking, 15 to 24.
What followed was a game for the ages. The Bulldogs won again, 20-19, to improve to 2-0 all time against Notre Dame. But it was how it happened more than what happened in this game. It was tightly-contested and dramatic, highlighted by amazing individual plays and clutch moments.
More than any, the night probably will be remembered by the incredible second-quarter touchdown catch made by Georgia’s Terry Godwin and forever preserved in oil-on-canvas by famed painter Steve Penley. And there is no other way to describe it. It was incredible.
Facing third-and-goal from the 5, the freshman Fromm targeted the junior Godwin on a fade route to the right side of the end zone. Godwin faced tight coverage, and the throw seemed to be aimed too far left and behind him. Miraculously, though, Godwin managed to get a gloved right hand on it, and with it he managed to pull the ball into his body and on top of his shoulder pads while simultaneous getting a foot down inside the right boundary of the end zone. Before his shoved-aided stumble was over, Godwin had obtained full control of the football.
Initially the play was ruled an incompletion, the official understandably incredulous that any human could have caught that ball. But that ruling was overruled by video replay, which showed conclusively that Godwin possessed it, and Georgia tied the game at 10-all.
But it might not even be considered the biggest play of the game. In fact, there was another catch that might even be deemed more important to the eventual outcome.
Georgia was trailing 19-17 inside the final five minutes of what had been an exciting back-and-forth game. On first down at the Bulldogs’ 48, Fromm found Javon Wims on a pass route that became quite familiar between them over the course of the season. Wims ran straight down the sideline, Fromm threw the ball high and slightly behind the 6-foot-4 senior receiver and Wims went up high and came down with the ball despite heavy contact. The play resulted in a 31-yard gain and put the Bulldogs into field-goal range for Rodrigo Blankenship.
Fromm and Mecole Hardman would hook up to give Blankenship 5 more yards to the Notre Dame 12-yard line. From there, Blankenship was good on a 30-yard field goal that would hold up as the game-winner with 3:34 remaining. Afterward, coach Kirby Smart revealed that Blankenship, a redshirt sophomore, had been awarded a scholarship earlier that week.
But as would also become a theme for the season, Georgia’s defense had to make the lead stand up. And it did. After forcing a three-and-out — the second one of the fourth quarter — senior outside linebacker Davin Bellamy beat Notre Dame’s ballyhooed left tackle Mike McGlinchey on first down and sacked quarterback Brandon Wimbush, knocking the ball loose in the process. Lorenzo Carter pounced on the ball at the 25-yard line, giving the Bulldogs the ball with 1:27 to play.
“Chopping wood, man; they just kept chopping,” Smart said, using that phrase for perhaps the first time in a season in which he’d use it a lot. “I didn’t say anything [to the defense]. Coach [Mel] Tucker handled that. He had those guys playing hard. They play hard. They love him. They played relentless.”
Georgia was able to kill the clock on three kneel-down plays. This came to the delight of a pro-UGA crowd, which had overwhelmed Notre Dame with what looked like 65 percent occupancy of the stadium. Hundreds of other Georgia fans who had also come to South Bend but couldn’t secure tickets celebrated in the parking lots around the stadium and bars around the city.
“I’m so happy for these fans,” Smart said afterward. “We brought 40,000 or something up here. These guys are awesome.”
Little could Georgia or its fans have known then that the awesomeness was just beginning.
Top 10 moments series
- No. 3, Seniors complete ‘Revenge Tour’ with win over Auburn for SEC title
- No. 4, Georgia makes first appearance in CFP championship
- No. 5, ‘squib-kick’ defense’ allows Dogs to steal 3 points in Rose Bowl
- No. 6, UGA’s starting QB goes down in season opener
- No. 7, J.R. Reed’s’s scoop-and-score in rout of Florida
- No. 8, Javon Wims’ circus catches thwart Tech’s hope for upset
- No. 9, an almost forgotten play in Tennessee blowout
- No. 10, the flea-flicker against Mississippi State