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Sunday February 7th, 2016 5:31AM

Georgia's Mason aims to 'keep momentum' for 2014

By The Associated Press
ATHENS -- Hutson Mason earned the win -- and the respect of his teammates -- when he made it through his first-game jitters to lead Georgia to a comeback victory over Georgia Tech.

Following that win in his first career start, Mason says he can't wait to see how he'll benefit from that experience when he starts for No. 23 Georgia against Nebraska in the Gator Bowl.

Mason recovered from a slow start to throw two touchdown passes in the 41-34 overtime win over Georgia Tech on Nov. 30.

Mason said Monday he wants to build off that win and use the bowl game to gain momentum for 2014, when he is expected to have a full season as the starter.

"I know just from my standpoint, I want to keep that momentum rolling because we can have a special team next year and I want to keep that energy and that excitement moving into the offseason," Mason said.

Mason, a junior, moved up as the starter after Aaron Murray tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee against Kentucky on Nov. 23.

There had been much anticipation for Mason's opportunity, based on the junior's performance in practice and in very limited playing time. Murray made 52 consecutive starts, so Mason had not had an opportunity to show he could be more than a backup.

Mason appeared tentative at times in the first half against Georgia Tech as the Bulldogs fell behind 20-0. He almost fumbled on Georgia's first possession and threw an interception on the second series of plays.

"It was a little shaky to start off with," Mason said. "First-game jitters, whatever you want to call it. But after we scored that first touchdown, I think our momentum shifted and I calmed down."

Mason kept his poise and threw a touchdown pass to Todd Gurley with only 34 seconds remaining in the first half to start the comeback.

"That's the type stuff I think we can expect from him all of next year," said offensive guard Chris Burnette, who said he thinks Mason "will be a lot more comfortable" in the neutral bowl site in Jacksonville after surviving the road win at Georgia Tech.

"Just with all of the circumstances that were involved the first (start), for him to handle it the way he did just shows he'll finally be ready to go when we play in Jacksonville," Burnette said.

The Georgia Tech game was Mason's first start since his 2009 senior season at Lassiter High School in Marietta. After waiting so long as Murray's backup, a period of adjustment was understandable.

"In the second half, anybody could tell I was a lot more comfortable and finally, there's just something about momentum and finally moving the ball that makes you settle down," he said. "In the second half I was just out there playing ball."

Mason completed 22 of 36 passes for 299 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. The comeback from the 20-point deficit was the biggest in Mark Richt's 13 seasons as coach and the third-largest in school history.

Not bad for a first start.

"He's just a baller and he showed it in the second half, coming back from down 20 points to get us a win," said wide receiver Michael Bennett, who caught a 9-yard touchdown pass from Mason. "Hopefully that's a sign for really good things to come and this Gator Bowl will be huge for him, too, especially going into next year."

Murray, who had to watch the game on TV while recovering from knee surgery, said he was proud of his longtime understudy.

"I thought he played great," Murray said. "I thought he played extremely well. I thought the offense started a little slow but they really came on in that last drive in the first half and in the second half they played excellent."

Murray reviewed the game tape with Mason the day after the game and said he poked fun at Mason's aches from the hits - including five sacks - in the game.

"The funny thing was he was a little sore the next couple of days, getting hit for the first time," Murray said.

But Mason waited a long time to be in position for those hits in a game.

"Yeah, it felt good," Mason said with a smile.
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