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UGA Ends Title Drought With Famed Finish

By Dave Holcomb
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Dave Holcomb reflects on Georgia's deciding fourth quarter against Alabama.

Entering the fourth quarter of the 2021 SEC Championship Game, the Georgia Bulldogs trailed Alabama by two touchdowns. Then, it became a surprisingly uncompetitive championship tilt with the Crimson Tide scoring again to increase their lead to 21.

The second half, especially the fourth quarter, couldn’t have gone much differently Monday night in the Georgia-Alabama rematch during the National Championship Game.

After a costly turnover early in the fourth, the Bulldogs rebounded to score three straight touchdowns, including a pick-six to seal the championship trophy, finally beat Alabama, 33-18, and win the program’s first national title since 1980.

It was Georgia’s first victory against Alabama since 2007, and it all but erases the pain of three SEC Championship losses and a National Championship defeat to the Crimson Tide during that time. The win was also Kirby Smart’s first against his ex-boss, Nick Saban, who is now 25-2 versus former assistants with the loss.

Alabama didn’t score a touchdown until the fourth quarter Monday night, but still led Georgia 18-13 with 10:14 remaining in the fourth quarter. A Stetson Bennett fumble, which the ESPN announcers argued was an incomplete pass, set up the Crimson Tide at the Georgia 16-yard line, and Alabama capitalized with the touchdown.

But Bennett didn’t respond like the walk-on he once was. Instead, Bennett answered with the heart of a champion, going 3-for-3 with 68 passing yards, including a 40-yard touchdown toss to Adonai Mitchell on the next possession. Georgia failed to convert the 2-point conversion yet still led 19-18.

Following a defensive stop, the Bulldogs returned to their running style, gaining 32 yards on six carries. Georgia also picked up 15 yards on a pass interference penalty that helped the offense move back into the red zone.

Once again, it was Bennett with the big play, throwing a 15-yard screen pass to Brock Bowers for a touchdown.

Alabama outgained Georgia in the game, 399-364, but in the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs held a 128-118 advantage in yards. Georgia scored two offensive touchdowns in the final stanza while Alabama had one in the entire game.

It was a beautiful fourth quarter from the Georgia offense, but the Bulldogs defense played well the entire night. Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young racked up 369 passing yards for Alabama, but it took 57 attempts. The Georgia defense held Alabama to 30 rushing yards and 1.1 yards per carry just a little more than a month after yielding 115 rushing yards – 40 from Young – to the Crimson Tide in the SEC Championship.

Young had minus-43 rushing yards Monday.

Because of the stalled Alabama running game, Young set a new career high in pass attempts and threw multiple interceptions for the first time in his career.

The Bulldogs defense then erased the one touchdown it allowed with a pick-six to the final minutes. Defensive back Kelee Ringo returned an interception 79 yards to the end zone to officially seal Georgia’s first national title in more than four decades.

“I hope it doesn’t take 41 years to win the next title,” head coach Kirby Smart said to ESPN.

It shouldn’t with the way Georgia, which won a program-record 14th game of the season Monday, is recruiting and developing talent under Smart. The Bulldogs have won at least 11 games in four of the last five seasons with the lone exception being the COVID-shortened 2020 season. Only Alabama and Clemson have more wins in the last five years.

But to win a national championship, Alabama has always been in Georgia’s way. The Crimson Tide essentially eliminated the Bulldogs’ hopes of a title in three of the last four seasons entering 2021.

At times, it looked like Georgia would avoid facing Alabama on the biggest stage this season, but then the Crimson Tide rallied against Auburn in the Iron Bowl and routed the Bulldogs to earn the top seed in the College Football Playoffs.

But thanks to a historic fourth quarter, Georgia finally slayed its archnemesis. Now, instead of the attention being on winning one championship to end a drought, the Bulldogs can turn their focus on becoming the program their rivals from Tucasloosa have been.