The greatest comeback in bowl history can only grow from here.
The Georgia Bulldogs made that clear from the instant they lifted place kicker Hap Hines into the air after his 21-yard field goal completed an unthinkable 28-25 overtime victory over Purdue today in the Outback Bowl.
The victory's place in Georgia lore will become more improbable after a game that requires no exaggeration. The facts surrounding the second overtime game in bowl history, and the first on a New Year's Day, are amazing enough.
The 21st-ranked Bulldogs (8-4) overcame a 25-0 second-quarter Purdue lead, three points more than the deficits that Joe Montana and Notre Dame hurdled in the 1979 Cotton Bowl against Houston, and Jim McMahon and Brigham Young defied in the 1980 Holiday Bowl against Southern Methodist.
But the numbers don't begin to explain the extent of Georgia's early futility or how it was reversed. The surprising use of a three-man rush by the Georgia defense was responsible for holding the high-octane and 19th-ranked Boilermakers (7-5) scoreless for the last 40 minutes 37 seconds of regulation, and a failed overtime possession.
And a 94-yard, game-tying touchdown drive by Georgia, the longest drive of its season, was climaxed by the most improbable of quarterback Quincy Carter's 20 completions: A forced, off-balance pass into double coverage on a fourth down and 12 that was cradled by the left hand of Randy McMichael near his helmet with 1:19 to play. But only after it deflected off two Purdue defenders--Adrian Beasley's hand and Willie Fells's shoulder pad.
"Just like we drew it up," Georgia Coach Jim Donnan said. "I'm going to say, 'He threw it a hundred yards and I had to fight off 30 men to catch it,' " McMichael said. "It's the greatest football play I ever made in my life."
The Bulldogs can recount how they fell behind by those 25 points after just 19:22--how Purdue quarterback Drew Brees, named the most valuable player, had four touchdown passes in a span of 14:48 and 249 passing yards by halftime.
"That was as close to looking like the game was fixed as I've seen," Donnan said.
It was ugly, but not over. Travis Dorsch's missed extra-point attempt after Purdue's second score led the Boilermakers into a downward spiral of failed two-point conversion attempts after the next two touchdowns.
"Little did we know how critical our first missed extra point of the season was going to be," Purdue Coach Joe Tiller said.
Dorsch had made 85 of 87 conversions in his career. He missed three field goal attempts, including a shanked 42-yard kick in overtime. His 38-yard attempt with 13:16 to play, which could have given Purdue a 10-point lead, was ruled wide right after appearing to pass above the right upright.
But that was just one problem. Purdue gained 528 yards, but just 70 in the fourth quarter and overtime, including minus-7 rushing yards.
Trailing by seven, Georgia drove from its 6 to the Purdue 28. McMichael dropped a third-down pass, leaving the Bulldogs to face fourth and 12.
Carter was patting helmets in the huddle.
"I was just letting them know that this was going to be the biggest play of the season," Carter said. "It was going to define what we're about as a team. It's going to let us know how good we are. I let them know that this is it. It's fourth down and 12. Let's just make a play."
His 21-yard throw to Terrence Edwards, who had slipped but kept his balance, created Georgia's chance. Three plays later, Carter's pinball pass to McMichael tied the score.
At the end of a painful day, Brees stood at a lectern and stared at the wooden most valuable player trophy he had just accepted.
"Smile," a photographer suggested.
The polite attempt was as forced as Carter's game-tying pass, just not as successful.
"That game right there," Brees said, "is how the whole season has gone."
A Story for the Ages
After trailing by 25 points, Georgia executed an improbable record-breaking comeback to shock Purdue in overtime, 28-25. The win marks the greatest comeback win in college bowl game history, eclipsing 22-point comebacks mounted by Notre Dame in 1979 and Brigham Young in 1980.