ATHENS — For most of the day, it was a defensive struggle. Then, with the clock winding down, LSU and Georgia started trading touchdowns as though the defenses weren’t even on the field.
The Southeastern Conference rivals combined for three TDs in the final three minutes, but Charles Scott scored the one that mattered most on a 33-yard run with 46 seconds remaining to give No. 4 LSU a wild 20-13 victory over 18th-ranked Georgia on Saturday.
"Our football team, if you turn your back on them, they will beat you up," LSU coach Les Miles said. "We have competitive men, and they like to play. I am so proud of them."
Next up: a showdown with top-ranked Florida in Baton Rouge next Saturday night.
Scott appeared stopped at the line, hemmed in by at least three Georgia tacklers. But he stumbled out of the pack, putting down a hand to stay up, and didn’t stop running until he got to the end zone.
"I played mad, with controlled rage," said Scott, who rushed for 95 yards on 19 carries after struggling in LSU’s first four games.
Neither team reached the end zone through the first three quarters, but they sure made up for it in the fourth.
In the end, LSU (5-0, 3-0 SEC) benefited from an excessive-celebration penalty after A.J. Green came down with a brilliant catch to put Georgia ahead with 1:09 left. The Tigers got good field position on the ensuing kickoff and won it on Scott’s hard-nosed run, which would have been a pass if those on the sideline had their way.
Quarterback Jordan Jefferson persuaded the coaches to let him hand off to Scott instead of putting the ball in the air. They were sure glad he did.
"I would rather give it to Charles and let him pound it in there," said Jefferson, who was 18 of 27 for 212 yards. "Charles is a big power back. I didn’t want to pass it. That situation required a running play. I saw the hole, and once he hit it, I knew it was a TD."
Georgia (3-2, 2-1) will surely bemoan letting this one get away. The Bulldogs weathered the storm in the first half, trailing just 6-0 despite getting outgained 236-49 and managing only one first down.
LSU squandered two scoring chances from the Georgia 9 — one when Jefferson was picked off in the end zone, another when the Tigers were stuffed on fourth-and-inches.
Georgia took control in the third quarter, sparked by a hard-rushing defense that sacked Jefferson six times and the hard running of freshman Washaun Ealey, who gained 33 yards on eight carries in his first college appearance. The Bulldogs finally scored in the opening minute of the fourth quarter when Joe Cox tossed a 1-yard touchdown pass to Shaun Chapas on fourth-and-goal.
Everything was overshadowed by what happened at the end.
With LSU down 7-6, Jefferson completed a 16-yard pass on third down to Rueben Randle, hit Scott on a screen for another 16 yards, and got loose down the sideline for a 27-yard run. That set up Scott’s first TD, a 2-yard run with 2:53 remaining for a 12-7 lead. LSU went for the 2-point conversion, but Jefferson was sacked again.
Georgia responded quickly. Tavarres King got loose behind the secondary and hauled in a 46-yard pass from Cox. One play later, the senior quarterback threw it up for grabs in the end zone and Green reached over cornerback Chris Hawkins to snatch the ball before tumbling into Sanford Stadium’s famous hedge.
But with the crowd going nuts, Georgia was flagged for its second excessive celebration penalty of the game. Green said he was just "celebrating with my team," but the SEC released a statement from the officiating crew that said, "Following a brief team celebration, Green made a gesture to the crowd calling attention to himself."
The Bulldogs missed their 2-point try, then had to kick off from their 15. Trindon Holliday returned it to the Georgia 43, and a 5-yard penalty for an illegal formation pushed LSU even closer.
Two plays later, Scott won it for the Tigers. He somehow got away even with Jeff Owens grabbing at his ankle and two linebackers, Rennie Curran and Marcus Dowtin, taking a shot at him.
LSU won a close one for the second week in a row. Last Saturday, the Tigers needed a goal-line stand to hold off Mississippi State 30-26.
"It’s tough," said Cox, who completed 18 of 34 for 229 yards, including five passes for 99 yards to Green. "It’s not something I’d want anybody to feel. We worked a long time for this game and talked about this game a lot. It just slipped away. It’s not a good feeling."
Georgia coach Mark Richt sidestepped questions about the excessive celebration call, though it was clear he thought the officials could have been a little more lenient.
"To me, if you’re losing late in the game and it looks like all hope is lost, then you get a spark and get a TD, that was probably the right amount of celebrating for the moment," he said. "I don’t know how to define what’s excessive and what’s not."
LSU also got an excessive celebration penalty after Scott’s long TD run, but it didn’t matter. Perry Riley sealed the victory with an interception along the sideline.
"I thought," Richt said, "they were also well within their celebratory rights."