Back and forth. Back and forth.
Georgia’s Aaron Murray and LSU’s Zach Mettenberger, friends, former teammates and once competitors for the same starting job, traded touchdown passes like jabs and uppercuts with neither team going away.
“Like a heavyweight fight between quarterbacks,” Georgia tight end Arthur Lynch said.
They made the secondaries they threw against oftentimes look helpless and left fans, players and coaches from both teams wondering how a top-10 tilt would finish Saturday.
When it came down to the end, Mettenberger’s career-high passing day was topped by what just might be the most important throw in Murray’s Georgia career.
His 25-yard touchdown pass to Justin Scott-Wesley with 1:47 to go put Georgia ahead for good as the No. 9 Bulldogs survived with a 44-41 victory over No. 6 LSU at Sanford Stadium.
OK, now breathe.
“I’m about to pass out,” said Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, who recruited both quarterbacks to Georgia. “What a game, what a game. These kids kept believing and kept playing hard.”
Mettenberger, the former Oconee County standout, headed off the field with his head down after Georgia’s defense held. When the game ended, Murray threw the ball high in the air.
The most demanding stretch any team in college football has played so far this season — going up against three top-10 teams in the first four games — is now behind Georgia (3-1, 2-0 SEC), which remains in the national title chase and as the SEC East frontrunner.
“We feel great right now, we feel like we’re in a great position,” Murray said. “It’s still a long season to go. We’ve got to keep winning.”
Georgia rose up from its season-opening three-point loss against Clemson, to win against South Carolina and now LSU with the pressure on knowing a loss would end their ultimate goal.
“We talked about that after the game, even during the game, we had to win that game if we wanted to get to Pasadena (for the BCS title game),” said receiver Michael Bennett, who had a pair of touchdown catches.
Murray jumped into the arms of offensive lineman Dallas Lee after his game-winning touchdown throw. Murray, Mettenberger and Lee were roommates after enrolling early in 2009, but Mettenberger was dismissed in 2010 after a spring break arrest outside a bar near Valdosta and plead guilty weeks later to two counts of misdemeanor sexual battery.
When the game was over, an emotional Mark Richt got teary-eyed during his postgame interview on the field with CBS.
“Just so thankful,” the Georgia coach said.
Later in his postgame news conference, Richt said: “Certainly the game itself and the emotion of the game and the drama of the game was part of it, but there’s some other things that go on sometimes in life that not everybody knows about. I’m not going to get into it, but they lifted me up. I told them at the end of the game in the locker room that they lifted me up and I needed it.”
Murray lifted Georgia to a victory on a day its defense gave up 449 yards and stopped LSU on third down on only five of 15 chances.
The fifth-year senior completed 20 of 34 passes for 298 yards, four touchdowns and an interception. He also rushed for a touchdown.
Mettenberger returned home to throw for a career-high 372 yards and three touchdowns while completing 23 of 37 passes. Richt said he gave Mettenberger a hug after the game and told him the same thing he told Murray — he was proud of him.
“It was really a great performance by both quarterbacks, it was unreal” Bobo said. “I ain’t ever seen a performance like that, just two quarterbacks like that in my time here at Georgia.”
LSU (4-1, 1-1) overcame an early deficit to lead 14-7 in the first quarter, but didn’t lead again until 41-37 with 4:14 left on an 8-yard touchdown run from Jeremy Hill after Mettenberger directed an 8-play, 75-yard drive.
“I was pacing,” Murray said. “I remember at one point I was like, ‘I’m not watching.’ … It was stressful.”
Murray answered with a 75-yard drive of his own in six plays, completing all four passes on the drive, including the scoring pass — called “63 chipper” — even when LSU switched to a Tampa 2 zone.
“We had two verticals into the boundary and the safety didn’t get over and I was wide open,” Scott-Wesley said.
A wide open Scott-Wesley hauled in the game-winning touchdown near the sideline at about the 3-yard line and went into the end zone for the score.
“I just thought he was very calm,” Bobo said of Murray. “Every time I talked to him on the phone, he responded.”
Georgia won despite losing star tailback Todd Gurley to an ankle injury in the first half.
His status for Saturday’s game at Tennessee is uncertain.
Keith Marshall rushed for 96 yards on 20 carries.
“I think everybody in the nation,” Murray said, “knows what Georgia football is about right now.”