Head Coach Mark Richt of the Georgia Bulldogs celebrates after the game against the LSU Tigers at Sanford Stadium on September 28, 2013 in Athens, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
ATHENS, Ga. -- Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger once battled for the starting quarterback job at Georgia, knowing only one would be able to have the career they envisioned.
That competition, in the spring of 2010, has basically been forgotten as a footnote of history. Their clash Saturday will remain part of Southeastern Conference lore.
No. 10 Georgia emerged as the winner of a back-and-forth classic, beating No. 6 LSU, 44-41, at Sanford Stadium to stay in contention for the national title.
And in a league that has traditionally been known for defense, this game occurred with both quarterbacks at the top of their game, making one incredible play after another until only one was left as a winner.
LSU, which trailed for most of the second half, finally took a 41-37 lead with 4:14 remaining when Mettenberger led the Tigers 75 yards in eight plays, including a third-and-22 conversion. But Murray, who lost tailback Todd Gurley in the second quarter with a left ankle injury, led Georgia right down the field and found Justin Scott-Wesley wide open for a 25-yard touchdown with 1:47 remaining.
It was Murray's fourth touchdown pass of the day, one-upping Mettenberger, whose final drive stalled out with 52 seconds to go when LSU failed to get past midfield. Mettenberger, who was dismissed from Georgia in 2010 after an alcohol-fueled bar incident, played brilliantly, completing 23 of 37 for 372 yards and three touchdowns. But it wasn't enough for LSU (4-1, 1-1 SEC), whose defense gave up 496 yards.
Georgia, meanwhile, emerged 3-1 from a September in which it faced three top-10 teams and now has a much more favorable schedule as it tries to win the SEC East and recover from a season-opening loss to No. 4 Clemson.
It was well-earned, too, in a game that seemed destined to come down to the final possession.
After struggling to run the ball most of the afternoon, LSU got rolling late in the third quarter and tied it at 27-27 on Mettenberger's 39-yard touchdown pass to Jarvis Landry. The Tigers then forced UGA to go three-and-out, momentarily appearing to reclaim momentum.
But LSU receiver Odell Beckham Jr. made a key special-teams mistake, muffing a punt that he could not recover, giving Georgia possession at the Tigers' 20-yard line. Three plays later, a massive coverage bust in the LSU secondary allowed Michael Bennett to run free along the right hash for an easy touchdown - Murray's third of the afternoon - that put the Bulldogs back in front 34-27 heading into the fourth quarter.
LSU, though, came up with a gutsy response, driving 70 yards in 11 plays - including a leaping 25-yard third down catch by Landry in triple coverage - to tie it again with 12:17 left, setting up the wild, back-and-forth finish.
LSU scored touchdowns on its first two possessions, but Georgia's defense started to control the line of scrimmage as the first half wore on, limiting the Tigers to 13 rushing yards. That put Mettenberger into several third-and-long situations against a significant pass rush, which forced the 6-foot-5 quarterback to get rid of the ball quickly
Georgia, meanwhile, had 306 yards on 40 plays at halftime with a significant edge on the ground. Though Gurley left in the second quarter after carrying eight times for 73 yards, it didn't impact the Bulldogs' ability to run the ball as backup Keith Marshall added 70 yards on nine carries. Georgia executed a nine-play, 82-yard drive at the end of the first half to take a 24-17 lead.