ATLANTA - Virginia Tech jumped out to a 21-3 halftime lead, but the Hokies' second-half turnovers proved costly as Georgia scored 28 unanswered points in the final 30 minutes to knock off Tech 31-24 in the Chick-fil-A Bowl in front of a record crowd of 75,406 fans at the Georgia Dome on Saturday night.
The loss snapped Tech's six-game winning streak and ended the Hokies' bid at becoming just the fourth team in school history to win 11 games in a season. Tech finished its season with a 10-3 record, while Georgia finished its 2006 campaign with a 9-4 mark.
The Hokies jumped out to that 18-point halftime lead thanks to two 1-yard touchdown runs by tailback Branden Ore and a 53-yard pass from receiver Eddie Royal to tight end Sam Wheeler on a trick play. But Tech turned the ball over four times in the second half - all by quarterback Sean Glennon - and three of those turnovers led to 18 Georgia points.
"When you turn the ball over, you're going to lose against a good football team, and Georgia is a good football team," Tech head coach Frank Beamer said. "They played better than we did in the second half and we helped them. When we lost games to Boston College and Georgia Tech, we turned the ball over, and tonight, we lost because we turned the ball over."
The Bulldogs cut the lead to 21-6 on a 52-yard field goal by Brandon Coutu early in the second half, and then head coach Mark Richt made a decision that helped turned the game around. Richt decided to go for an onsides kick, and the Bulldogs recovered. That ended up leading to a 6-yard touchdown pass from Matthew Stafford to tight end Martrez Milner that cut the Tech lead to 21-13.
A Glennon interception on Tech's next possession led to 3-yard run by Gregg Lumpkin with 12:39 left in the game. Georgia went for two points and got it when Stafford hit Milner in the back of the end zone. That tied the game at 21.
A Glennon fumble on the first play of Tech's next possession led to a 28-yard field goal by Coutu that enabled the Bulldogs to regain the lead, 24-21, with 10:42 remaining. Glennon's interception on the Hokies' next possession ultimately led to a 1-yard touchdown run by Brannan Southerland with 7:30 to go that gave the Bulldogs a 31-21 lead.
The Hokies cut the lead to 31-24 on a field goal by Brandon Pace with 3:41 remaining and actually got the ball back with 1:25 to go. But they couldn't muster a first down, with the fourth-down play ending when a Glennon pass fell incomplete.
Glennon, a 6-foot-4, 221-pound redshirt sophomore from Centreville, Va., suffered a nightmarish game in the season finale. He completed 13-of-26 for 94 yards, with three interceptions and a fumble.
"I take responsibility for what happened," Glennon said. "Regardless of whether they were bad break or not, they were still turnovers. It's hard for our defense to keep them from putting points on the board when they're constantly getting good field position."
Royal caught four passed for 45 yards, and Ore ran for 42 yards on 20 carries to pace the Hokies. Tech finished with just 189 yards of total offense.
Tech's defense, ranked No. 1 nationally going into the game, struggled in the second half, though it was often put in difficult situations. Georgia amassed 153 of its 200 total yards in the final 30 minutes. Stafford, a true freshman, completed 9-of-21 for 129 yards, with a touchdown and an interception.
The game marked the end of a stellar four-year run for Tech's seniors, who were bidding to become just the second class in school history to win 40 games over a four-year span. They finished with a four-year mark of 39-13, joining last year's class and the 2001 class with 39 wins each.
"It's disappointing, that's for sure," Beamer said. "It's a game we had control of, and if we play normal Virginia Tech football, we're going to win. But I give Georgia credit.
"I've been in this game long enough and there's ups and downs. But every Virginia Tech team I know and every Virginia Tech player I know comes back. I'm sorry we didn't get this one for our seniors. But we'll learn from it and come back from it.
"I said at the start of the year that if you had told me this football team would have 10 wins, I'd have said that's great. The shame of it all is we could have had 11, but we didn't get it done in the second half."