SHREVEPORT, La. — Brandon Boykin’s teammates were giving him all kinds of kudos after his school record-setting kickoff return for a touchdown sparked Georgia’s win over Texas A&M in the Independence Bowl.
Boykin wanted none of it, though. To hear him tell it, all he did was run.
“The kick return that I had I really couldn’t take credit for that,” Boykin said. “The kick was short and my blocking, I felt like it parted just like the Red Sea.”
His third kickoff return for a score of the season — an 81-yarder late in the second quarter — hardly qualified as a miracle, but it was just what the Bulldogs needed to fuel a 44-20 victory on Monday.
Fifty-six seconds later Georgia blocked a punt, setting up another touchdown, and a game that was supposed to be an offensive showdown turned into yet another contest decided by the unit most folks usually forget about.
“The bottom line is you’ve got offence, defence and special teams and you hope to win two out of the three phases,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said.
“We could’ve been down 14-0 if it weren’t for the special teams and who knows what would’ve happened after that.”
Boykin set the school record and tied the Southeastern Conference mark with his kick return TD, Georgia blocked two kicks and Joe Cox threw his first touchdown pass after a snap sailed over the Texas A&M punter’s head in the third quarter.
In all, special teams play led to 24 points for the Georgia, which also got a 49-yard field goal from Blair Walsh. Add in an unexpectedly strong defensive effort and the Bulldogs managed to salvage a smile after a disappointing season.
Boykin may have deflected the credit, but everyone else called his return the “spark” that kicked the moribund Bulldogs to life.
“If you’re not 100 per cent against Boykin he’s going to hurt you and he did,” Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman said.
Instead of trailing going into halftime, Georgia was up 14-7. Joe Cox hit offensive MVP Aron White on touchdown passes of 24 and two yards in the second half and the Bulldogs (8-5) scored a bowl record 30 points in the final two quarters for their fourth straight post-season victory.
It was the fourth straight post-season loss for the Aggies (6-7), who have not won a bowl since 2001.
The Bulldogs sealed the win by intercepting Jerrod Johnson twice in the third quarter, an unexpected outcome for a defence that was playing with just one full-time assistant after the firing of defensive co-ordinator Willie Martinez and two others.
“I think we probably need to start out by saying what a fantastic job our defensive coaches did,” Richt said.
All the offence expected from two teams with porous defences and stars on offence such as Johnson and Georgia receiver A.J. Green never really developed. The teams had more punts than first downs in the first 25 minutes of the game.
Texas A&M finally got moving in the waning moments of the second quarter behind Johnson, whose 15-yard TD pass to Jamie McCoy with 2:33 left in the first half had the feel of a momentum builder.
But on the ensuing kickoff, Boykin tied the score 7-7.
Even after the late first-half collapse, the Aggies seemed to have life. Christine Michael scored from 14 yards out on Texas A&M’s first drive of the second half to make it 14-14.
Their next three drives were disastrous, though.
The first ended on the botched snap over the punter’s head, which gave Georgia the ball at the Texas A&M 24. Three plays later, Cox hit White with a touch pass down the middle of the field with a rusher in his face to make it 24-14. Johnson threw interceptions on the next two Aggies’ possessions.
Georgia was unable to score after the first turnover, but Reshad Jones’ 59-yard interception return on the second gave the Bulldogs the ball at the Aggies 28.
“We just wanted to show the world that even though we lost most of our coaching staff we could still come out in play,” said Georgia defensive end Geno Atkins, who blocked an Aggies field goal attempt.
Five plays later, Cox faked the handoff from the two, rolled right on a naked bootleg and found the wide-open White in the right corner of the end zone for a 31-14 lead.
Caleb King, who scored twice, and Shaun Chapas tacked on TD runs in the fourth quarter to pad Georgia’s lead and gave the Bulldogs a share of the Independence bowl record with six touchdowns.
The Bulldogs improved to 7-2 in bowls under Richt and put a positive finish on a season that didn’t go as expected.
“With the year we had it could’ve ended up a lot worse if we’d lost this game,” Cox said.