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University of Georgia photo / Michael Johnson was a popular interview subject after his 19-yard touchdown on a pass thrown by David Greene on fourth-and-15 that catapulted Georgia to a 24-21 win at Auburn and a berth in the 2002 SEC championship game.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the seventh story in a series on the 15 most memorable SEC football games beat writer David Paschall has covered since joining the newspaper in 1990. The games are being presented in chronological order.

The biggest certainty within the first 10 Southeastern Conference football championship games was that the Eastern Division representative would be wearing some shade of orange.

Florida won seven and Tennessee claimed three Eastern titles from 1992 to 2001, but the 2002 East champ donned red and black.

It took a 19-yard touchdown pass from David Greene to Michael Johnson on fourth-and-15 with 1:25 remaining to catapult Georgia to a 24-21 victory at Auburn and a trip to the SEC title contest in Atlanta's Georgia Dome. That short trek was rewarding for Mark Richt's Bulldogs, who routed an inferior Arkansas 30-3 to clinch the program's first league championship since legendary running back Herschel Walker's third and final season in 1982.

The 2002 Bulldogs thrived in close games, and had Johnson not caught Greene's pass over Auburn defensive back Horace Willis in the back left corner of the end zone, that year's league championship contest instead would have pitted Tommy Tuberville's Tigers against Ron Zook's Florida Gators.

"I know it's only the East, but we're champions tonight," Georgia second-year coach Mark Richt said after the Jordan-Hare Stadium thriller.

Georgia traveled to Jordan-Hare having lost three straight series meetings and having posted just a 5-13-1 record against Auburn since Walker's departure. The misery against the Tigers looked like it would continue when Ronnie Brown ripped off a 53-yard touchdown run and Auburn outgained Georgia 233-63 during the first half to build a 14-3 lead.

Auburn had a 21-10 lead midway through the third quarter after a 21-yard touchdown scramble by Jason Campbell, but the Tigers then went three-and-out on six consecutive possessions. The Tigers also faced the wind in the fourth quarter, which was reflected by Damon Duval's final four punts traveling just 34, 33, 36 and 37 yards.

"You have to give it to their defense," Tuberville said afterward. "They won the game for them."

Georgia had lost the ball on downs at Auburn's 27-yard line the possession before reaching the 19, and another loss of downs seemed likely after three straight Greene incompletions and a false-start penalty. Johnson was Greene's go-to receiver that game due to Terrence Edwards being out with a separated shoulder, and he earned a place in Bulldogs lore with his leap over Willis that capped his 13-catch, 141-yard performance.

Johnson had just 11 catches all season before that outburst.

"We lost our best receiver, and then he comes out and makes one of the best catches in Georgia history," Greene said.

Johnson's winning play was called "70-X-Takeoff," which quickly earned a spot in the Georgia gridiron annals alongside the "P-44 Haynes" touchdown from Greene to fullback Verron Haynes that stunned Tennessee at Neyland Stadium the year before.

It was the injured Edwards who provided the parting shot amid Georgia's jubilation at Jordan-Hare, uttering, "Tell those Florida Gators they don't have to play anymore."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.

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AP photo by Dave Martin / Georgia football coach Mark Richt talks with quarterback David Greene after Auburn scored a touchdown on a 53-yard run in the first quarter on Nov. 16, 2002, at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala.

READ MORE STORIES IN THE SERIES

Thirty years of SEC memories began with dominance of Pat Dye, Johnny Majors

Florida 48, Auburn 7 (1990): Spurrier's Gators arrived while ushering out Dye's Tigers

Alabama 28, Florida 21 (1992): Steve Spurrier on SEC title game: 'I didn't even know it was legal'

Auburn 38, Florida 35 (1993): The year college football's 'best team on radio' went 11-0

Alabama 29, Georgia 28 (1994): The night Jay Barker had to outlast Eric Zeier

Tennessee 28, Arkansas 24 (1998): Billy Ratliff's play arguably the most memorable in Vols history

Georgia 26, Tennessee 24 (2001): When a 'hobnail boot' described an instant classic

LSU 17, Georgia 10 (2003): Nick Saban gets LSU back among the national elite

Florida 31, Alabama 20 (2008): Turning the SEC title game into a national semifinal

Alabama 12, Tennessee 10 (2009): The day 'Mount Cody' spoiled Tennessee's upset bid

Auburn 28, Alabama 27 (2010): The surreal day when Nick Saban lost a 24-point lead at home

Alabama 32, Georgia 28 (2012): Time runs out on Georgia in the most thrilling SEC title game played to date

Georgia 44, LSU 41 (2013): Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger meet again to provide a classic

Auburn 34, Alabama 28 (2013): Navigating thousands to interview 'Kick Six' components quite the task

Alabama 26, Georgia 23, OT (2017 season): Crimson Tide win walk-off national title over Bulldogs

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