ATLANTA (AP) -- Georgia Tech was thinking overtime. Tim Jennings had something else in mind.
After D.J. Shockley teamed up with Bryan McClendon to put No. 13 Georgia ahead, Jennings intercepted a pass with just over a minute remaining to preserve the Bulldogs' fifth straight victory over No. 20 Georgia Tech, a 14-7 defensive struggle Saturday night.
"I didn't want to just break it up," Jennings said. "I wanted to jump in front of him and make a play."
He did just that. Reggie Ball took a quick drop and fired a pass toward Damarius Bilbo, lurking right at the goal line. Jennings timed his break perfectly, picking off the pass at the 5 and returning it almost 30 yards before he was shoved out of bounds with 1:11 remaining.
"I just read it to the T," Jennings said. "I saw Reggie Ball take three quick steps. I knew he had to get rid of the ball quick because we had a blitz coming."
Both teams scored in the first quarter and then slogged it out much of the night in a field-position battle. Finally, Georgia (9-2) broke through.
Thomas Flowers, who had two big punt returns in the second half, broke off a 33-yarder that gave the Bulldogs possession on the Georgia Tech 39. Shockley converted a key third down with an 8-yard pass to Mario Raley and then went all the way to the end zone.
On second-and-5 from the 19, Georgia called a play known as "Colt Patriot" and Shockley laid the ball out perfectly for McClendon, who hauled in the pass despite tight coverage by Dennis Davis with 3:18 remaining.
"It was just a great field position game, a great defensive battle," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "We had to stay patient, as much as we hated it, and let our special teams do their job -- then knock it in when we needed to."
Georgia Tech (7-4) quickly moved into position to force overtime. Ball threw a 16-yard pass to George Cooper and ran for 30 yards into Georgia territory. The Yellow Jackets caught a huge break when Ball threw into quadruple-coverage but drew a pass interference penalty when Greg Blue clothes-lined star receiver Calvin Johnson a split-second before the ball arrived.
"I was getting ready to go into overtime and win the game," said P.J. Daniels, who led Georgia Tech with 77 yards rushing. "I'm always trying to think positive."
The Yellow Jackets had first down at the 11. They would get no closer.
"It was just a great play by a great player," Ball said. "He guessed right. There was really nothing we could do about it."
Georgia Tech must be feeling the same way about this series. The Bulldogs have won every year since Richt took over as coach in 2001, and this makes it 12 wins in 15 years over their state rival.
"We talked all week about the senior class going out undefeated against Georgia Tech and being state champs," said Jennings, a major part of that class.
Georgia will return to Atlanta next Saturday to face LSU in the Southeastern Conference title game, trying to earn a third straight trip to the state capital. The SEC champion will play in the Jan. 2 Sugar Bowl, being held at the Georgia Dome this year while New
Orleans recovers from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.
Georgia spent much of the third quarter swinging around a big disadvantage in field position, which began when McClendon slipped down at his own 2 after catching the second-half kickoff.
The Bulldogs went three-and-out on their first possession, giving Georgia Tech the ball at the Georgia 48, but the Yellow Jackets couldn't do anything offensively. Georgia gradually worked out of the hole, getting a big boost on Flowers' 30-yard punt return late in the period.
Shockley completed 15-of-34 for 198 yards, while Ball was held to 155 yards passing and had three turnovers -- two interceptions and a fumble.
Georgia Tech took the opening kickoff and marched right down the field. Ball had runs of 13 and 11 yards, sandwiched around a 28-yard pass to James Johnson. On second-and-goal from the 2, Ball threw a high pass toward the left corner of the end zone, giving Calvin Johnson enough time to make a spectacular diving catch with
cornerback DeMario Minter trailing hopelessly behind him, giving Georgia Tech its first lead over Georgia since 2001.
Minter even clapped his hands after the catch, acknowledging the brilliance of Georgia Tech's star receiver. But Johnson made only one more catch, finishing with a season-low two receptions for 14 yards.
"The plan was to just get physical with him, just beat him up at the line and get in his head a little bit," Minter said.
Georgia tied it up before the first period was over, driving 82 yards in eight plays. Kregg Lumpkin accounted for 31 yards on four carries, while Shockley completed passes of 25 yards to Leonard Pope and 23 yards to Mohamed Massaquoi. Brannon Southerland
finished it off by powering into the end zone from the 1.
What looked like an offensive shootout in the making suddenly turned defensive and stayed that way.