INDIANAPOLIS – Kelee Ringo intercepted a pass and returned it 79 yards for a touchdown with 54 seconds remaining to put the finishing touches on a stellar defensive effort that helped lead No. 3 Georgia 33-18 over No. 1 Alabama in the National College Football Playoffs Championship Game Monday night at Lucas Oil Stadium.
For the Bulldogs, the national championship is the program's first since the 1980 undefeated season. This Georgia team went through the regular season without losing, only to fall to Alabama 41-24 in the SEC Championship Game on December 4. . Georgia rallied in the Orange Bowl playoff semifinal with a dominant 34-11 victory over No. 2 Michigan, and on Monday the Bulldogs edged Alabama 27-9 in the second half to win the championship.
"What a special moment for the University of Georgia and what a special moment for this team," coach. ] Kirby Smart said on TV after the win.
Alabama got the ball first and drove to the Bulldog's 19-yard line before kicking a 37-yard field goal, taking an early 3-0 lead. . For a few minutes early in the series, it seemed Georgia had hit first when nose tackle Jordan Davis stripped and sacked quarterback Bryce Young and linebacker Nakobe Dean returned the ball 45 yards for a touchdown. , but upon review, Young was ruled to have thrown the ball for an incomplete pass. George Pickens deep left hash for a 52-yard gain to Alabama's 29-yard line. The Bulldogs eventually had to settle for a 24-yard field goal Jack Podlesny that tied the game 3-3 with 12:35 left at the half. 3, on the next drive when Reichard hit a 45-yard field goal. Crimson Tide added a 37-yard field goal on their next drive for a 9-3 lead. Alabama had a first down in the 8th, but had to settle for the field goal after Georgia's defense made three saves, including a 13-yard sack by Channing Tindall at third and goal from the 6.
The field goal exchange continued into Georgia's next drive when Podlesny kicked a 49-yard throw all season to make it 9-6 at Alabama with 3:06 left at the half. At the half, Alabama held a 216-153 lead in total offense, with both defenses playing tough on the third down: Offenses were 6 of 17. Defenses were tough on the run as well, combining for 36 combined yards at 23. Attempts. Georgia got the ball to start the second half and got runs of 11 and 19 yards from Zamir White. before being forced to clear. The Bulldogs recovered the ball shortly after when safety Christopher Smith intercepted a knocked down Young pass at Alabama's 43-yard line for the game's first turnover. However, Georgia failed to capitalize and Jake Camarda's 36-yard punt was knocked down in the 2. Tacle Jalen Carter raised his left hand and blocked the field goal attempt from 48 yards from Reichard.
On the first play of Georgia's next drive, James Cook ran down the middle and then down the left sideline for 67 yards to the Alabama 13-yard line. . Three plays later, White ran the ball at 1 for the game's first touchdown and a 13-9 lead for Georgia with 1:20 left in the third quarter. The Crimson Tide entered the red zone and had a first and goal in the 5, but had to settle for a 21-yard field goal, reducing Bulldog's lead to 13-12 with 12:59 left in the game.
Alabama then produced Georgia's first fumble of the game, forcing a fumble from Bennett and recovering the fumble at Bulldog 16 with 11:35 left. The Crimson Tide then regained the lead when Young hit tight end Cameron Latu for a touchdown on the fourth down from 3. Georgia stopped Young on Alabama's 2-point attempt, keeping the score 18-13 with 10:14 remaining.
Georgia's passing game worked the next series, starting with an 18-yard complete pass to Jermaine Burton and then ending with a 40-yard touchdown pass to Adonai Mitchell on the right side of the end zone. Alabama was offside on the play, so Bennett threw a deep free throw and it paid off with the touchdown. Georgia attempted a 2-point conversion and Cook stopped short of the goal line, leaving the Bulldogs 19-18 with 8:09 to play. and took over the offense at UGA 38 with 7:10 on the clock. Fueled by a strong run from White and a pass interference penalty, Georgia sped into Alabama territory, chewing on the clock in the process. At third and 1 at 15, Bennett hit tight end Brock Bowers on a screen and Bowers ran for a touchdown with 3:33 left. Podlesny's extra point put the Bulldogs up 26-18.
Alabama was driving on its next possession until Ringo intercepted Young's pass and came back down the right sideline all the way for the decisive touchdown, sparking a huge celebration on the Georgia Sideline.
The Georgia defense had to return to the field shortly after to try again to stop Alabama's desperate momentum. Defensive end sacks Travon Walker and linebacker Robert Beal Jr. helped close the victory, and on the final play of the game Nolan Smith captured Young, a fitting way to end a spectacular Bulldogs defensive performance and a well-earned national championship.
Bennett, who threw for 224 yards and two touchdowns, was named Offensive Player of the Game, while safety Lewis Cine (seven tackles and one broken pass) earned Defensive Player of the Game honors.