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September 6, 2013

A Tough, but Right Decision

Former starter John Lastinger came off the bench
against the 'Cocks 30 years ago, paving the way
for an unforgettable finish to a senior year.
After the Clemson loss, I posted on my Facebook author page a photo of Georgia's Mike "Jumbo" Weaver, without a helmet, chasing South Carolina quarterback Allen Mitchell during the Bulldogs' 31-13 win over the Gamecocks in 1983.  Similarly to the present, the Dogs were coming off an unsatisfactory performance at Clemson back then with a senior quarterback some folks were starting to question.  (By the way, if you haven't done so already, please visit and "LIKE" my author page.  As you'll notice, I'm lacking in the "LIKE" department.)
I received a couple of emails from visitors, asking what senior quarterback some folks were starting to question was I speaking of...  Thirty years later and on the eve of Georgia-South Carolina, I thought it would be appropriate to post about one of the most ironic twists of fate in UGA football history.
He wasn't flashy and his numbers could be downright dreadful, but if quarterback John Lastinger could do anything, it was simply win.  However, in games against UCLA and Clemson to start the 1983 season, Lastinger was not only a combined 7 of 18 passing for just 68 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions, but the Bulldogs had just endured their first regular-season "non-win" in two entire years, as well. 
Late in the third quarter against the Tigers and with Georgia trailing 16-6, Coach Dooley benched his starting quarterback for sophomore Todd Williams.  Rallying the Bulldogs for the 16-16 draw, Williams passed for 169 yards, 157 of which were in the fourth quarter alone.  Back then under Dooley's three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust offense, 169 yards passing in a game got one's attention; 157 yards passing in merely a single quarter was unthinkable.
"The Monday morning after Clemson, I met with Coach Dooley and he said that if I wanted to start the next game against South Carolina, he’d start me — I had earned that right – but he wanted to discuss it first," Lastinger informed me for my latest book.  "Thinking of the team first and the fact that we needed to start rolling offensively, Coach Dooley and I decided together that Todd should start.  It was a tough decision for me to make, but the right decision."
Now, check this out...  Williams plays the entire first half and into the third quarter against the 'Cocks, and performs well, gaining 113 total offensive yards in 13 plays; however, Georgia is deadlocked 10-10 in a contest it entered as two-touchdown favorites.  With the Bulldogs possessing the ball on the Gamecock 36-yard line, Williams suddenly goes down with a bruised thigh.  Thereupon, Lastinger, the starter-turned-reserve, returns under center for Georgia.
On his first play since his dismal effort at Clemson, Lastinger connected with tight end Clarence Kay for 32 yards.  Three plays later, he found Kay again for a 4-yard score, giving Georgia a touchdown lead.  The next two times the Bulldogs had possession, Lastinger engineered touchdown drives, resulting in three touchdowns the first three times he had the ball after being benched for what amounted to nearly an entire game.
Playing less than half of Georgia's 31-13 victory, the fifth-year senior finished with an un-Lastinger-like 10 completions on 14 attempts for 108 yards and a touchdown, while adding 51 yards rushing and a touchdown on just three carries.  Following the contest, Dooley stated, "I've never been prouder of an individual than I am of John Lastinger."
You can't help but feel somewhat sorry for Williams...  He was never really the same after the South Carolina game of '83.  After missing two entire games because of the injury, Williams returned to the bench.  He would open his junior campaign as the Bulldogs' starting quarterback but would be sidelined again during the 1984 season with an injury -- on two occasions.  By his fifth year, the one-time honorable mention national All-American in high school and starting Georgia quarterback as only a sophomore was the Bulldogs' third-stringer in 1986.        
Lastinger, on the other hand, would never relinquish his starting role at Georgia after his memorable performance against the Gamecocks.  And, just think, if Williams doesn't go down with a thigh bruise versus South Carolina, Lastinger likely doesn't lead Georgia to its epic 10-9 win over Florida later that season, or has one of the greatest moments in Bulldog history in the Cotton Bowl (Again, what time is it in Texas?).

As Cotton Bowl color analyst Pat Haden said, "This Georgia team has character, and nobody has more of it than John Lastinger; he is going to find a way for his team to win."  It was a win perhaps only made possible more than three months before when a head coach and his starting quarterback made the tough, but right decision for the signal caller to go from starter to reserve.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

10 to 9