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Make that six straight
Georgia downs Tech for sixth straight win in rivalry
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Georgia safety Kelin Johnson celebrates after Georgia defeated Georgia Tech 15-12 Saturday in Athens. The Bulldogs have now won the last six games in the heated rivalry.
    ATHENS — Matthew Stafford grew up in Georgia’s last two games, helping turn what appeared to be a lost season into one that suddenly looks a whole lot better for the Bulldogs.
    The freshman threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Mohamed Massaquoi with 1:45 remaining, leading the Bulldogs past No. 16 Georgia Tech 15-12 on Saturday for their sixth straight win in the heated series.
    While the Yellow Jackets (9-3) still have a chance to win the Atlantic Coast Conference championship next week, they’ll have to wait a whole year to get another shot at their biggest rival.
    Georgia is still on top in this state, which seemed improbable just three weeks ago when the Bulldogs lost for the fourth time in five games — a dismal stretch that included losses to traditional Southeastern Conference weaklings Kentucky and Vanderbilt.
    Now, the Bulldogs have won two in a row, following up a stunning 37-15 upset of then-No. 5 Auburn with yet another win over the Yellow Jackets. They’ll head on to a bowl, most likely the Music City in Nashville or the Chick-fil-A in nearby Atlanta.
    ‘‘This shows what type of team we have,’’ senior safety Tra Battle said. ‘‘When adversity hit, we regrouped. Yeah, we lost some games we shouldn’t have lost. But we beat two highly ranked teams at the end of the year. You couldn’t ask for anything more.’’
    Stafford played a big role in both wins. He accounted for 302 yards rushing and passing against Auburn, then rallied from a sluggish start to direct the biggest drive of the season after Georgia Tech reclaimed the lead, 12-7, on Tashard Choice’s 10-yard touchdown run with 8:50 remaining.
    Stafford completed four straight passes on the 12-play, 64-yard drive, the last of them to Massaquoi on third-and-goal from the 4.
    The receiver broke outside, as though he was heading for the corner, and Stafford sold the ruse with a pump fake. Massaquoi then slipped free over the middle, hauling in Georgia’s only offensive score of the day (along with a 2-point conversion, also on a Stafford-to-Massaquoi pass).
    This one was especially galling for Georgia Tech, which already had clinched a spot in next Saturday’s ACC championship game but couldn’t overcome a miserable game by quarterback Reggie Ball.
    The senior completed just 6 of 22 passes for 42 yards with two interceptions.
    Paul Oliver finished off Ball’s awful career against Georgia by picking off a deep throw toward Calvin Johnson with a minute remaining. The Bulldogs ran out the clock, and the celebration was on between the hedges.
    ‘‘(Ball) was definitely rattled at the end of the game,’’ Georgia defensive tackle Ray Gant said. ‘‘He was kicking and shoving people. He’s 0-4 against Georgia, so you can’t really blame him. I might be kicking and shoving guys too if that was my record against them.’’
    Ball, a four-year starter, endured four painful performances against Georgia. He sustained a concussion against the Bulldogs his freshman year. As a sophomore, he lost track on the downs on a late drive, allowing Georgia to hold on for a 19-13 win. Last season, he threw an interception at the goal line with just over a minute remaining in a 14-7 loss to the Bulldogs.
    Now this, perhaps the worst performance of his career.
    ‘‘C’mon dog, it’s a game,’’ Ball said. ‘‘Georgia is Georgia. They’re a good football team, but they ain’t no speed bump or anything like that. It’s just a game. Unfortunately for us, they’ve come out the last couple of years and won the game.’’
    Most damaging, Ball also had a fumble that Georgia ran back for its first touchdown, a play that appeared over until linebacker Tony Taylor snatched the ball from a pile of players and took off the other way for 29 yards.
    ‘‘I walked up to the pile and saw the ball laying there,’’ Taylor said. ‘‘The first thing that went through my mind was, ‘I hope they don’t blow it dead.’’’
    Choice rushed for 146 yards, but he was basically a one-man show for the Georgia Tech offense. Johnson, expected to be a top NFL draft pick if he goes pro, managed just two catches for 13 yards.
    Early in the second quarter, Stafford handed Georgia Tech its first points by fumbling a snap, which was recovered by Philip Wheeler at the Bulldogs’ 13. The Yellow Jackets went backward from there but Travis Bell booted the first of his two field goals, a 35-yarder.
    It was still 3-0 late in the third when Taylor changed the entire tone of the game. With Ball attempting to scramble on third-and-15, Marcus Howard knocked the ball away with a hit from behind. Several players jumped on top of it while everyone else stood around, wondering who had recovered.
    Everyone but Taylor, that is. He ripped the ball out from under Nate McManus’ legs, then took off. Taylor rumbled all alone toward the end zone, and the TD stood after the replay officials took another look.
    Stafford rallied in the second half, finishing 16 of 29 for 171 yards. More important, he didn’t throw any interceptions for the second week in a row.
    ‘‘When the protection was there, Matthew did a good job of hitting his targets,’’ said Georgia coach Mark Richt, who’s never lost to the Yellow Jackets. ‘‘When it wasn’t, he did a great job of throwing it away or taking a sack. It’s called managing the game. It’s not exciting, but that’s what you’ve got to do.’’
    The Bulldogs will take it.