If this was indeed Justin Houston's last appearance in Sanford Stadium the junior linebacker certainly went out with a bang.
It was Houston's third-quarter touchdown return following a Georgia Tech fumble that proved the difference in the game which he later saved with a last-minute interception, enabling Georgia to beat the hated Yellow Jackets Saturday night 42-34.
"I guess I was just in the right place at the right time tonight," smiled Houston, who ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper considers a likely first-round draft pick in April's NFL Draft. "I'm just glad I was able to make some plays."
Not only did the Butkus Award finalist and Nagurski Trophy finalist return a third-quarter fumble 18 yards for a score and clinch the win with his first career interception, but he also finished with seven tackles, including one for a loss of two yards.
"Houston had a great day today with two huge plays," head coach Mark Richt said. "To get the interception was big, but to have the awareness to take a knee and not take a chance of turning the ball back over was huge."
With time running out and facing a second-and-10 at the Bulldog 46, Tech quarterback Tevin Washington dropped back to pass, but apparently did not see Houston who had dropped well back into the coverage.
The ball went directly to the Bulldog outside linebacker who after securing the pick, fell to the ground enabling quarterback Aaron Murray to run one play and run out the clock.
"I saw the quarterback's eyes but I kept thinking there was no way he was going to throw it my way. I thought sure he saw me, but I guess he didn't," Houston said. "I felt great. It was truly a blessing."
Earlier, Houston's touchdown enabled Georgia to extend its lead over Georgia Tech to 35-21, a score that turned out to be the difference in the game.
Although the Yellow Jackets rushed for 411 yards against the Bulldogs, this was one time where Houston and company had an answer.
With Georgia Tech at its 21-yard line, Washington attempted a pitch to Roddy Jones, but linebacker Akeem Dent arrived the same time as the ball, which bounded off to his left directly in front of Houston who made the scoop and rumbled 18 yards for his first Georgia touchdown.
"I didn't see the fumble until after Akeem cleaned his man and the ball was just lying there," Houston said. "After that it was just scoop and score."
Dent said the play was a thing of defensive beauty.
"That's the perfect way to play the option," Dent said. "Everybody played his assignment, I was able to get over the top and the next thing I knew I had forced the fumble. After that, it was all Justin scooping it up for the touchdown. That was just how you draw it up."
Richt said he hopes Houston will be with the Bulldogs for one more year.
For his part, the Statesboro native said he won't start to think about the NFL until after Georgia's bowl game, wherever that may be.
"I have no idea what the future holds for him, but I hope he's a Bulldog for another season and improve his draft status to be a Top-10 pick," Richt said. "I don't think he's there now, but he's one of those guys who could move into that position. We always sit down and try to do what's best for these guys. Only time will tell."
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