Georgia vs. Alabama has been a rivalry game for decades, with the matchup growing more and more heated in recent years thanks to postseason matchups and fierce competition. The rivalry reached a boiling point when the two teams met for the second time this season Monday night and the Dawgs took down the Tide 33-18 to win the College Football Playoff National Championship for the first time since 1980.
In their first meeting, Alabama defeated Georgia 41-24 on Dec. 4 during the SEC championship game. This time the stakes were higher than ever, and the Dawgs were hungry.
It looked as if the Tide might be Rolled after all during Alabama’s first possession when Georgia defensive back Jordan Davis sacked Alabama quarterback and Heisman Trophy recipient Bryce Young. Davis' sack was Georgia's first against Alabama this season, and forced a fumble to show a promising start for a vaunted defensive line that had carried UGA throughout the season.
Georgia's Nakobe Dean scooped the ball up and ran it back for a Dawgs touchdown on the play. The momentum for Georgia was stymied by the referees, though, when play was called back after the fumble was ruled a forward pass. It was no question after this play that Georgia's defense was on regardless. Alabama settled for a field goal to make the score 3-0 Tide with 9:55 remaining in the first quarter.
Despite the defensive showing on the opening drive, the story of UGA's first half would be its offense, and not in a positive way.
The Tide’s defense showed they were there to play as well when linebacker Christian Harris sacked UGA quarterback Stetson Bennett on the first play of the next possession. This play took Georgia from the 25-yard line to the 11-yard line, making it difficult to get anything going. The Bulldogs continued to make little progress on the offensive side after the lackluster start.
Star wideout George Pickens changed the pace of the first quarter with a catch that set the Dawgs up to kick a 24-yard field goal to tie the game. Bulldogs kicker Jack Podlesny nailed the attempt and tied the score at the beginning of the second quarter.
On Alabama’s next possession, wide receiver Jameson Williams suffered a knee injury while making a catch that set kicker Will Reichard up to nail a 46-yard field goal making the score 6-3 in Bama's favor. With another shutdown effort by Alabama’s defense afterwards, the Tide got the ball again without letting Georgia put any points on the board. A clutch sack from linebacker Channing Tindall on third and goal forced the Tide to kick a field goal, bringing the score to 9-3.
On the next possession, Podlesny nailed a 49-yard field goal attempt for UGA. The score at the half was 9-6, a result of staunch defense from both sides throughout the first two quarters.
The Dawgs got the ball at the 25-yard line to start the second half when running back Zamir White ran for two first downs right off the bat. Despite the strong start, the Tide’s defense forced the Dawgs to punt the ball away and Alabama would get the ball at the 5-yard line. In this drive, the Dawgs defense would force the Tide to attempt a 48-yard field goal which was blocked by defensive lineman Jalen Carter.
Georgia got the ball on their own 20-yard line and running back James Cook came out immediately with a 67-yard run. With a facemask call on the Tide, the Dawgs were set up for a touchdown on the 2-yard line. White ran the ball into the end zone for the game's first touchdown, making the score 9-13 after Podlesny converted the extra point. Reichard followed for Bama with another field goal at the beginning of the fourth quarter and brought the score to 12-13 with the Dawgs leading.
When Georgia got possession of the ball next, though, one of the night's biggest plays struck.
Bennett was sacked on the drive and coughed up the football, handing Alabama possession and great field position at the Dawgs 20-yard line. Alabama recovered the ball just inches before it bounced out of play, but after a tense replay review the recovery stood.
In a game filled with stellar defense, the starting spot gave the Tide the boost they needed to break into the end zone as Young connected with tight end Cameron Latu for the game's first touchdown. The score was 18-13 Tide after a failed two-point conversion attempt following the score.
After the heartbreaking fumble that gave up the lead, it looked like Bennett and the Dawgs were destined to fall against Bama yet again in a huge game for the championship. The UGA walk-on and his wide receivers had other plans, however.
The Dawgs scored again in their next possession when Bennett connected with speedy wide receiver Adonai Mitchell for a 40-yard touchdown pass. The Dawgs also attempted a two-point conversion and came up short, bringing the score to 18-19 in UGA's favor with 8:09 to go in the game.
The Dawg’s defense put serious pressure on the Tide in the next possession and forced them to punt the ball away. After this, Bennett connected yet again through the air with tight end Brock Bowers in the end zone and Podlesny split the uprights, making the score 18-26 Dawgs. It looked as if Georgia had the Tide on ice, but Young and the offense still had plenty of time and hoped to score and tie the game.
On the Tide’s next possession, that hope crumbled. Young, for the first time in any game this season, threw his second interception in the same night. Freshman defensive back Kelee Ringo sealed the win and ran the ball back for a Georgia touchdown, dealing the crushing blow to a Bama team that had been the thorn in Georgia's side for all of head coach Kirby Smart's tenure until last night.
After the interception, the clock ran out and the Dawgs claimed their first National Championship in 41 years with a final score of 19-33. After losing to Bama the first time around and being on the ropes following Bennett's fumble, the Dawgs bucked their reputation for losing the big game and bounced back to win it all. Bennett shed tears on the sideline.
Vengeance is sweet, and perhaps a Championship is sweeter still for Bennett, Smart and the Dawgs.