During his legendary 3-year college football career, Georgia running back Heschel Walker’s team lost just three times and only once during the regular season. He was a big reason why.
There were many close calls along the way, including one that took place on this day 40 years ago. Walker’s late touchdown run was ultimately the difference as the Bulldogs rallied past Auburn, 19-14.
Setting the Stage
Georgia was 9-0 and ranked No. 1 in the country as it arrived at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala. on Nov. 13, 1982. The Bulldogs were looking for their third straight win in the “Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry.”
Despite being 7-2, Auburn was unranked for the contest. The Tigers were coming off a 30-7 rout of Rutgers, but still looking for their first win of the season over a ranked team.
Walker and the Defense Deliver
Through three quarters, a 7-yard run by Auburn quarterback Randy Campbell and a 47-yard scamper by Walker had accounted for the game’s only two touchdowns. The difference was a pair of field goals by the reliable Kevin Butler.
Through three quarters, Georgia led 13-7. Three plays into the fourth, that changed.
Lionel James’ electrifying 87-yard touchdown run put Auburn back in front, 14-13. Midway through the final period, Georgia mounted a drive.
Behind eight runs from Walker, who finished with 177 yards on the ground, and timely completions by John Lastinger, the Bulldogs marched 80 yards. Walker’s 3-yard touchdown run put Georgia back in front. The missed 2-point try, however, kept the lead at five.
After an impressive march by Georgia, Auburn answered with one of its own. When they had to, however, the Bulldogs’ defense stiffened.
With less than three minutes left, Auburn had reached the Georgia 11-yard-line. Back-to-back tackles for loss — one on running back Bo Jackson and the other on a sack of Campbell by Dale Carver — forced Auburn into 3rd-and-26. After a 9-yard completion on third down, Campbell’s desperation throw into the end zone with 49 seconds left was knocked down.
In its second year under head coach Pat Dye, Auburn closed the year with wins over Alabama and then Boston College in the Tangerine Bowl. With a 9-3 record, the Tigers finished 14th in the final polls.
Georgia rolled past Georgia Tech the following week, but a 27-23 loss to Penn State in the Sugar Bowl would cost it a second national championship in three years. With an 11-1 record, the Bulldogs finished fourth in the final polls.
After finishing in the top three with voters in each of his first two seasons, Walker won the Heisman Trophy in 1982. He played the role of hero in his final meeting against Auburn. It came on this day four decades ago.
Featured image courtesy of Georgia athletics