INDIANAPOLIS – They gathered on an imaginary line drawn 62 yards from the goal, their goal, and the obstacles they faced at that time were far more abundant and imposing than the 11 defensive players allocated to Alabama Crimson Tide. It was the moment the Georgia Bulldogs had sought all year, that their predecessors through 40 seasons too rarely approached. A national championship was literally in sight.
Georgia led by just one point in the college football qualifying final. It was nice to be in front, but it’s surely not safe to assume it would stay that way, especially for a team whose last championship was 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 come down and score. We were preparing for it. We didn’t think one point was enough.
“But it was also to bleed the clock while we were doing it.” I mean, you saw. Our offensive line, we crushed them over there on this record. We played Georgian football driving. The ball carriers ran hard. We weren’t going to be stopped on this ride, I don’t think so. It was great to pass the ball and watch these guys lead us out onto the pitch.
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The Dawgs needed seven games to cover the yardage all the way to the end zone. Five of them were runs, with the top four covering 32 yards. They won 15 more by penalty when Bennett landed a deep pass over the straight sideline and Alabama’s Kool-Aid McKinstry tackled wide receiver George Pickens rather than allow him the inevitable touchdown. If it was football, McKinstry would have been given a red card for turning down an obvious scoring opportunity.
The touchdown that made the CFP Championship a reality was marked by someone who knew little about UGa’s endemic frustration and didn’t experience it himself. First-year winger Brock Bowers has been on the winning side in 14 of his 15 college games and was discovered on a quick shot to the left, then untouched in his sprint to the end zone because Marcus’ block Rosemy-Jacksaint led McKinstry to a seven-yard scrum lead.
The Bulldogs got a 6 pick from rookie Nickle Back Kelee Ringo to score the final score of 33-18 and ensure there wouldn’t be an Alabama miracle in this one, a comeback that covered 79 yards in which coach Kirby Smart spent much of his time trying to abort. He chased Ringo down the sideline and yelled at him to get off lest he be stripped from behind by a Tide defender. It was one of the few pieces of strategy that Smart technically missed, but Ringo wisely didn’t listen and ended up in the end zone.
“It wasn’t the right game there. I saw the receiver come up behind him and, pessimistic thought or something, I was worried that the guy would throw the ball out from behind, ”said Smart. “Then I realized the 11 was not going to catch up with Kelee. And once I realized… I didn’t want to get a call waiting. All I could think of was get off, down, we could win this game, run on time.
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“They had three time outs 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 had come close twice: in 1982, when they lost the Sugar Bowl vs. Todd Blackledge and Penn State, and 2017, when they lost 13 points at halftime and fell to Alabama in the CFP overtime final. And the rest of the time, especially after Dooley’s 1988 decision to focus on athletic director duties, they went through three coaches and more than their fair share of single-digit winning seasons, all while looking out on each other. side of the border to see the Alabama national titles stack up.
At the team hotel over the weekend, Smart got out of an elevator on his way to his floor and saw Dooley sitting on a bench waiting for a hotel employee to bring him an extra key. he had locked himself out of his room.
“I thought it was a sign,” said Smart. “I thought God had put it there for me to see the day before this game.”
These Bulldogs didn’t play for that cause, but they kind of played against it. This kind of drought can take a toll on a team. Smart, however, preferred not to focus on the Georgia fans he presented this gift to. He expressed his appreciation for their dominance of the seats available Monday night – “It was like 70-30” – but it was the players he recruited in Georgia that Smart most wanted to experience that kind of triumph.
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“Someone said to me: You don’t play in the 41 years that we haven’t won a national title. You’re playing for the men in the room, ”said Smart. “And it really touched me, because that was what it was about, it was these guys in the room.”
College football being what it is, there were so many saves after Ringo’s touchdown – as Alabama went through a meaningless final practice that at best would only impact the sidelines of his loss – and all of that downtime and criticism served to drain some of the delirium from the UGa fans gathered in and around the southern area of Lucas Oil Stadium.
There were three late sacks from Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young, however, to reinvigorate Bulldogs fans, and it seemed little doubt that they would find a way to keep their party going into the night – no, until 2022. .
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And when it was over, Bennett allowed himself to cry on the Bulldogs bench.
“It hit me. I haven’t cried for I don’t know how many years. It just happened to me, ”Bennett said. “When you spend as much time as we do on these things – blood, sweat, tears – it means something. “