ATHENS - It wasn't a high scoring affair and, in fact, the halftime score resembled that of a baseball spring training game rather than a spring football game. But the annual Red and Black game did provide some late excitement in the Black's 18-11 win on Saturday at Sanford Stadium.
With the black trailing 11-10, redshirt freshman Ken Malcome took a handoff from true freshman Christian LeMay for the go-ahead touchdown with 2:53 remaining. Starting quarterback Aaron Murray then came in to complete a pass to Taylor Bradberry for the 2-point conversion to bring the score to its final margin.
The Red led 5-3 at halftime.
The score aside, it was a win-win day for the Bulldogs and their fans. The scrimmage ended free of injury, and 43,117 fans packed the seats, a G-Day record, on a perfect day for football with clear skies and the temperatures in the mid-60s. The previous G-Day attendance record was 42,458, set in 2009.
"Today was a great day," Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said. "I felt both sides played extremely well."
Unique to this spring scrimmage was a draft to determine the teams, as opposed to the first and second units playing together as they do throughout the spring. That caused for some confusion on the lines, leading to sacks and fumbles - the first drive of the game ended in a Red fumble lost, and the next play, Black quarterback Murray was sacked for a safety .
However, area players had big games, including receiver Tavarres King - a Habersham Central graduate. King led all receivers with five catches and 62 yards for Team Red.
"It was an extremely good day for me as a receiver and I had a lot of fun," said King, a junior.
King said he and the rest of the receiving corps are ready to step up in the absence of A.J. Green, who declared for the NFL draft after his junior season.
"We're motivated as a unit," King said. "We feel like we have the tools to be great and be a powerful unit. We'll see what happens."
Chestatee High graduate Chase Vasser also heard his name called a lot over the loudspeaker. Playing for Team Black, the sophomore outside linebacker recovered Carlton Thomas' fumble at the Black 3 on the opening drive, and finished with a game-high seven tackles .
"Chase did very well," Richt said. "He certainly knows what he's doing. He came in this spring in good condition, and he's starting to make plays."
Without the pressures of a quarterback competition, Murray showed the crowd glimpses of the great freshman that emerged last year, completing 12 of his 17 passes for 122 yards and a touchdown.
His touchdown pass came on the opening drive of the second half, completed to junior DB Branden Smith, one of a few players Richt plans to use both ways next season.
"I think we looked great," Murray said. "We started a little slow in the first half, but we came out in the second half on the first drive and put it in the end zone and it went pretty smoothly from there on out."
Murray's backup, sophomore Hutson Mason, was 9-for-16 passing with 109 yards and an interception.
A lot of fans were hoping to see what the Bulldogs have in incoming freshman quarterback Christian LeMay, who enrolled a semester early to take part in spring practice. However, as Richt said after the game, "Christian's greatest competition right now is the playbook," as LeMay is in the beginning stages of learning the offense. He finished 3 of 6 passing for 38 yards. After he handed off to Malcome for the go-ahead score, Murray took LeMay's place behind center on the 2-point conversion because LeMay didn't know the play, Murray said after the game.
Thomas led all rushers with 48 yards on 13 carries, followed by Malcome (39 yards, seven carries) and Caleb King (30 yards, five carries).
On defense, Alec Ogletree matched Vasser with seven tackles. Richard Samuel and Eric Elliot each recovered fumbles and Connor Norman had the game's only interception.
While fans got a glimpse of what's in store for 2011, they didn't get the full picture. The incoming recruiting class Richt has referred to as the "Dream Team," and that Rivals.com ranks as the fifth best in the nation, will invade summer practices looking to make their presence felt.
"They're going to make a big impact, because they're highly talented and very hungry," Richt said of the '11 recruiting class. "They're not coming in with the mindset of ‘I'm going to wait my turn,' and we've let it be known that no one's job is safe.
"These rookies have a chance."
STAFFORD'S SHOULDER LOOKS OK: Former Georgia quarterback and 2010 top draft pick of the Detroit Lions Matthew Stafford returned to Athens to take part in the 2011 QB Challenge along with past Bulldogs quarterbacks D.J. Shockley, David Greene and Eric Zeier.
Stafford answered questions on how the shoulder in his throwing arm is recovering after a torn AC joint required surgery and prematurely ended his 2010 campaign by winning the challenge, which took place at halftime.
The quarterbacks first threw at trashcans from 35 yards out, then through a tire hanging from the field goal post from 12 yards out. Finally, selected fans became receivers for the quarterbacks and ran 12- and 25-yard out routes.
Stafford hit the trashcan, was 3-for-5 in tire throws (no other quarterback got more than one), but his receiver couldn't quite pull in his passes, dropping the final 25-yard route after Stafford encouraged him to run 40 yards.
Stafford was forgivable of the receiver.
"It was fun and we had a good time and I think they had a good time catching them from us, and I'm glad we could do it," Stafford said.
"I feel good, fine, and I'll be ready when it's time," he said, referring to his shoulder and taking the field if and when the lockout ends.
OLD DAWGS TAUGHT NEW TRICKS: Before the young pups took to the field, past alumni played in the third annual letterman flag football game. Notables included former Buford grad Mikey Henderson (WR/DB/KR, class of 2007) and Thomas Flowers for the Red Team, and Amp Arnold - a leading receiver on the 1980 national championship team - Jevaris Johnson, Burt Jones and Fred Gibson for the Black Team.
The Black Team won 26-13.
"It's really fun playing in these games," said Henderson, who won state championships with the Wolves in '02 and '03 under coach Dexter Wood. "It's great to get to put on the jersey again and play on the Sanford field with letterman you might never otherwise meet. We all have that common red and black bond and we all went through the battles."
Henderson, who was also part of last year's letterman game, is now a defensive backs coach at Haralson County.
Follow Adam Krohn at Twitter.com/gtimesakrohn.