INDIANAPOLIS – They met on an imaginary line drawn 62 yards from goal, from their goal, and the obstacles they faced at the time were far more plentiful and imposing than the 11 defensive players assigned to Alabama Crimson Tide. This was the moment the Georgia Bulldogs had sought all year long, which their predecessors for 40 seasons rarely came close to. There was a national championship literally in the offing.
Georgia led by a single point in the final of the College Football Playoff. It was good to be up front, but surely it wouldn’t be safe to assume it would stay that way, particularly not for a team whose last championship occurred in 1980.
“I think we had six minutes left, so the goal was to score a touchdown,” Bulldogs quarterback Stetson Bennett told Sporting News. “Because in our mind, they were going to go down and score. We were preparing for that. We did not think that one point was enough.
“But it was also to bleed the watch while we did it. I mean, you saw it. Our offensive line, we crushed them there in that advance. We played Georgia soccer on that record. The runners ran hard. We weren’t going to be detained on that trip, I don’t think so. It felt great to just deliver the ball and watch those guys guide us down the field. “
The Dawgs needed seven plays to cover the yards to the end zone. Five of them were runs, including the first four, covering 32 yards. They got another 15 on penalties when Bennett fired a deep pass down the right sideline and Alabama’s Kool-Aid McKinstry tackled catcher George Pickens instead of allowing him the inevitable touchdown. If this were football, McKinstry would have received a red card for denying a clear scoring opportunity.
The touchdown that made the CFP championship a reality was scored by someone who knew little about UGa’s endemic frustration and experienced none of it. Freshman tight end Brock Bowers has been on the winning side in 14 of his 15 college games and was spotted on a quick move to the left, then intact on his run to the end zone because the wide receiver’s block Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint led McKinstry seven yards away. skirmish.
The Bulldogs got a pick-6 from first-year player Kelee Ringo to make the final score 33-18 and ensure there would be no miracle from Alabama in this one, a comeback that covered 79 yards during which coach Kirby Smart spent much of the time. of time trying to abort. He chased Ringo down the sideline and yelled at him to come down for fear that a Tide defender would strip him from behind. It was one of the few elements of the strategy that Smart technically failed, but Ringo wisely did not listen and ended up in the end zone.
“That was the wrong play there. I saw the catcher come up behind him and, pessimistic thought or whatever, I was worried that the guy would steal the ball from behind, “Smart said. “Then I realized that 11 wasn’t going to catch Kelee. And once I figured it out … I didn’t want to get a call waiting. All I could think of was get down, get down, we could win this game, run out of time.
“They had three timeouts, so going up two scores was the right move.”
Since Herschel Walker and quarterback Buck Belue and head coach Vince Dooley led the Dawgs to a 12-0 season in 1980, they came close twice: in 1982, when they lost the Sugar Bowl to Todd Blackledge and Penn. State, and in 2017, when they blew a 13-point lead at halftime and fell to Alabama in the CFP final in overtime. And the rest of the time, especially after Dooley’s decision in 1988 to focus on athletic director roles, they went through three coaches and more than their fair share of single-digit winning seasons, as they looked across the border. to see Alabama racking up national titles.
At the team’s hotel over the weekend, Smart stepped out of an elevator as he reached his floor and saw Dooley sitting on a bench waiting for a hotel worker to bring him an extra key; he had locked himself out of his room.
“I thought it was a sign,” Smart said. “I thought God put it there for me to see the night before this game.”
These Bulldogs did not play for that cause, but they did play against him. That kind of drought can weigh on a team. Smart, although he preferred not to focus on the Georgia fans to whom he presented this gift. He expressed appreciation for his dominance of available seats Monday night: “It felt like 70-30,” but it was the players he recruited for Georgia that Smart wanted the most to experience this kind of win.
“Someone told me: You are not going to play the 41 years that we have been without winning a national title. You’re playing for the men in the room, ”Smart said. “And that really touched me, because that’s what it was all about, it was those guys in the room.”
College football being what it is, there were so many stoppages after Ringo’s touchdown, when Alabama made a pointless final drive that, at best, would impact only the margin of their loss, and all those timeouts and revisions. served to drain some of the delusion from the UGa fans gathered in and around the southern end zone at Lucas Oil Stadium.
However, there were three late sacks by Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young to reinvigorate Bulldogs fans, and there seemed little doubt that they would find a way to run their party late into the night – no, deep inside. of 2022.
And when it was over, Bennett allowed himself to cry on the Bulldogs’ bench area.
“It just hit me. I haven’t cried in I don’t know how many years. It just got hold of me, ”Bennett said. “When you spend as much time as we do on these things (blood, sweat, tears), it means something.”