Rapid Reaction: Georgia's long wait ends with CFP National Championship win over Alabama
The Georgia Bulldogs waited five weeks and change to gain revenge for their SEC Championship Game loss.
They waited through their seven previous frustrating attempts to beat Alabama, including a heartbreaking overtime loss in the national title game in the 2017 season.
And Bulldogs fans waited since 1980 for their team to claim a national championship.
All of that waiting finally ended on Monday night in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Georgia defeated defending national champion Alabama 33-18 to claim their first national championship since the Herschel Walker era, as the Dawgs truly fulfilled coach Kirby Smart’s mission to stamp themselves as elite.
Adonai Mitchell’s 40-yard touchdown catch from Stetson Bennett IV put Georgia ahead 19-18 with 8:09 left in the fourth quarter. The Bulldogs failed on the 2-point try. Alabama was flagged for offsides on the play and Bennett took advantage of the free play, finding Mitchell 1-on-1 with defensive back Khyree Jackson.
The Dawgs (14-1), ranked No. 3, sealed their victory on Bennett’s 15-yard touchdown pass to tight end Brock Bowers with 3:33 remaining. The Dawgs defense, in the conversation much of the season as one of the best in college football history, then put on the finishing touch with Kelee Ringo’s 79-yard interception return for a touchdown. The freshman defensive back picked off Bryce Young and raced down the right sideline to score with 54 seconds remaining.
Alabama (13-2) made a big defensive play to get possession at the Georgia 16-yard line with 11:35 left in the fourth quarter. Christian Harris rushed Bennett and forced a fumble, with defensive back Brian Branch recovering the ball just before it went out of bounds. Officials reviews the play for several minutes to confirm that Bennett’s arm was not going forward when he lost the ball, and that Branch’s foot was in bounds when he grabbed the ball.
That led to Heisman Trophy winner Young’s 3-yard touchdown pass to tight end Cameron Latu with 10:14 left. The No. 1 ranked Crimson Tide, missing All-American receiver Jameson Williams after he left with a knee injury in the first half, failed on the 2-point conversion and maintained an 18-13 lead.
Georgia finally punched in the game’s first touchdown with 1:20 left in the third quarter on Zamir White’s 1-yard run. White ran behind two defensive linemen, Jalen Carter and Jordan Davis, who were inserted on offense for the short-yardage situation. That capped a 4-play, 80-yard drive that started with James Cook’s 67-yard run down the left sideline.
Alabama drove right back down the field, 72 yards in 10 plays, but Young could not find a target on 3rd down from the Georgia 3-yard line and the Crimson Tide settled for Will Reichard’s 21-yard field goal, his 4th of the game.
Georgia got the first big break of the second half when safety Christopher Smith picked off Young’s deep pass. But UGA could not capitalize, going 3 and out.
Later in the third quarter, the Dawgs made another big play, with Jalen Carter blocking Will Reichard’s 48-yard field goal attempt to keep Alabama’s lead at 9-6.
In the second quarter, Williams caught a 40-pass down the middle but appeared to hurt his left knee while making a cut downfield and had to be helped off of the field. He returned to the sidelines in the second half in street clothes. The Crimson Tide was already without injured John Metchie, who led Bama with 96 catches this season. Georgia’s defense held, stopping Slade Bolden on a 3rd-and-6 pass, and Reichard’s 45-yard field goal put Alabama ahead 6-3 with 11:12 left in the half.
Alabama caught a few breaks in the first half, especially on special teams. A penalty wiped out what would have been a 65-yard kickoff return for Georgia, and later Bolden recovered his own muffed punt before any Georgia player could get to the ball.
Latu raced down the left sideline with a 61-yard catch and run, but Dawgs linebacker Channing Tindall sacked Young on 3rd down, leading Bama to settle for Reichard’s 37-yard field goal and a 9-3 lead.
Jake Podlesny’s 49-yard field goal, his longest of the season, snuck inside the right upright and brought the Bulldogs within 9-6 with 3:09 left in the second half.
Late in the first quarter, the Bulldogs offense gained its initial 1st down after two 3-and-out drives, then Bennett took a deep shot downfield and hit George Pickens for a 52-yard gain. Podlesny’s 24-yard field goal tied it at 3 early in the second quarter, capping Georgia’s 87-yard drive.
It didn’t take long for the vaunted Georgia defense, No. 2 in FBS in fewest yards allowed coming in, to make a play that turned into a talking point. Defensive lineman Jordan Davis sacked Young early in the first quarter and the ball came loose, with Nakobe Dean returning it to the end zone and the officials initially ruling it a touchdown. Upon replay, the play was ruled an incompletion.
Alabama went on to get a 37-yard field goal from Reichard and take the early 3-0 lead.
Alabama won the earlier meeting between the teams this season, 41-24, on Dec. 4 in the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta. And Georgia hadn’t beaten Alabama at all since 2007, Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban’s first year in Tuscaloosa. Saban was going for his seventh national title at Alabama on Monday night.
Instead, count that as another wait that came to an end for Georgia fans on Monday night.