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Column: Though crushing, UGA loss was epic all the same - The Red and Black : Sports

Column: Though crushing, UGA loss was epic all the same

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  • Georgia Football versus Auburn

    Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall (14) runs the ball during the first half of a NCAA football game against Auburn in Auburn, Ala., on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013.(photo/David C Bristow, dbristow65@gmail.com)

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Posted: Sunday, November 17, 2013 7:15 pm | Updated: 2:18 pm, Mon Nov 18, 2013.

There are those that have compared athletic competition to physical poetry — the height of kinesthetic expression whose beauty, the inherent subtleties and utmost extremes of the human body's movements, will at times shock and defy our preconceived notions of “normal.”

And it’s no accident that ESPN, according to Forbes, has turned that into a $40 billion business enterprise: we devour the drama (manufactured or real) and soak up all the high-stakes madness to form something equal parts exhilarating and terrifying for ourselves, the viewers.

Any person who calls him or herself a fan of the Bulldogs (6-4, 4-3 SEC) had their hearts broken again on Saturday in Georgia's 43-38 loss to No. 6 Auburn on a last-chance, jaw-dropping touchdown pass. Many feel justifiably battered, desperate to attribute blame after so many seasons of not-quite-enough and perhaps searching for a quick fix where there may or may not even be one.

The feelings of frustration are natural and expected but no tougher to deal with on an occasion such as this: once again, the Bulldogs have found themselves on the losing end of another epic game.

But in the aftermath of defeat, what was the so-called "Miracle on the Plains" if not the height of football viewership? In what other way can sports so gracefully deliver soul-crushing sadness and jolts of pure elation to thousands of different people in a single moment?

Though perhaps still painful, it deserves a certain appreciation.

***

Nick Marshall was calm as the dark evening clouds rolled over Jordan-Hare Stadium – frighteningly so.

The Georgia defense, his former teammates, had just forced 4th-and-18 after the Bulldogs after took an improbable 1-point lead on Aaron Murray's fearless goal-line scramble. It seemed, as they've done before this season, that UGA's defenders had somehow made a stop when they needed one the most.

Most fans could count on one hand the number of times they've seen teams convert 4th-and-18. Or at least I could. The Tigers reeked of desperation, and surely this final play was nothing more than formality.

But for a Georgia team that has now allowed 12 of 18 fourth-down conversions, many third-and-long conversions and has a penchant for allowing huge passing plays (three plays of 70 yards or more this season), the wise fan knew even this was not yet a lock. Perhaps Marshall knew that.

And so there stood the former Bulldog, tall in the pocket as defensive coordinator Todd Grantham rushed two, left a third on QB spy duty and dropped eight into coverage. Ray Drew fought his way to within a foot of Auburn's quarterback. His counterpart, Jordan Jenkins, came close as well and dove at the signal-caller's feet as he stepped forward.

Heave.

Ricardo Louis is trapped. There are Georgia defenders on three different sides of him, and two leap to grab an overthrown, last-gasp pass. Tray Matthews and Josh Harvey-Clemons see not a football but the word "UPSET" come flying toward their waiting, airborne hands with all due haste and recklessness. The pass veers right at two sets of hands, hungry and waiting.

This is the point in sports movies where the sound cuts out and everything moves in slow-motion. But more than that, you take a mental snapshot of a particular moment - the ball floating in the air, almost weightless - and savor it. Your eyes widen. Everything becomes lost in the grandness of the moment, until suddenly it's gone.

Bouncing off Matthews, the pass deflects up, over and right down into Louis' hands. He wasn't expecting it. He wasn't even looking for it. It quite literally fell into his lap.

"It just landed right into my hands. I saw it once it got over my shoulder. It got tipped, I lost track of it," Louis said to the Associated Press. "But when I looked over my shoulders, it was right there."

There he was and there he went, dashing free to the 10-by-53.33-yard box we call "end zone" where dreams either crumble or somehow keep on breathing.

For the Bulldogs, those dreams were struck dead, a lightning bolt sent from the only cloud in the sky with the backdrop a chorus of 87,000 astonished Auburn fans.

We would be at fault to forget that the prelude to all of this was an unlikely 20-point comeback effort by the Bulldog offense fueled mostly by Murray, who finished the day with a heroic 415-yard, four total touchdown performance under his belt.

And following that miracle play, he drove Georgia within 20 yards of a last-second touchdown pass - a near one-upping of Marshall's logic-defying touchdown throw.

The outcome will surely haunt him, but even so the senior undoubtedly finished his final conference road game in style - even if he can't see it just yet.

"It's like a nightmare," Murray said. "You try to wake up, and we are celebrating victory. It's tough. This is going to be a tough one to get over."

***

Auburn, a team that went 3-9 last season, kept its title hopes alive on that play.

At the other end, the dejected Bulldogs saw their upset bid stolen away in spectacular fashion, all but ending their slim-to-none odds of winning the SEC East. You could say it served as the perfect microcosm for the 2013 season. You wouldn't be remiss to say it sums up the Mark Richt era of UGA football, either: so many promising starts and a fair share of disappointing finishes, as well.

But regardless of where these two teams end up – whether the Tigers lose out or the Bulldogs start winning again – this play will stand immemorial, another shining example of why so many love the game.

There was nothing normal about it. That's why the poetry almost writes itself.

— Alec Shirkey is a senior from Dunwoody majoring in English and finance

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