Georgia insisted it was plenty motivated for Friday’s Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl matchup against Cincinnati at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. But the Bearcats definitely looked like the more-inspired team for the first three quarters.

Fortunately for the Bulldogs, there was a fourth quarter, and that one belonged to them.

At the very end of it, Jack Podlesny nailed a 53-yard field goal to assure the come-from-behind win. But then, fittingly, Azeez Ojulari made one final play for the defense. He capped off the game with a sack for a safety to make the final score 24-21.

It was the third sack of the game for Ojulari and the eighth overall for the Bulldogs as the defense led the comeback from an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit. Ojulari, a sophomore from Marietta, also forced two fumbles and had four tackles overall.

“The narrative was out there that our team didn’t want to be here, that they didn’t want to practice,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “That was never true. Our guys practiced hard. They played a really good, motivated football team that was trying to remain undefeated. … I would not feel any different (if the Bulldogs had lost), but the perception would certainly be different.”

Georgia held Cincinnati to 305 total yards and only 22 in the fourth quarter. Not to be forgotten was a blocked field-goal attempt by Georgia junior Jordan Davis in the first half, which proved to be critical to the final margin.

Quarterback JT Daniels led the Bulldogs on the game-winning drive. Daniels completed four passes for 40 yards on the 44-yard final possession offense that began at Georgia’s 20 with 1:28 to play. The sophomore finished with 392 yards on 26-of-38 passing with a touchdown and an interception and improves to 4-0 as the Bulldogs’ starting quarterback.

Once he got Georgia into Podlesny’s field-goal range, he said felt confident Georgia was going to win.

“That’s what Pod does; we see it every day in practice,” Daniels said. “But I was on my knees saying some prayers when he was lining up.”

Podlesny was on his knees praying afterward, giving thanks for what he said was his first game-winning kick of any kind at any level. He also made field goals of 37 and 32 yards and was named the bowl’s MVP.

“I was trying to remember why I’m here, and God put me here and God is good,” said Podlesny, a sophomore walk-on from St. Simons Island.

The defeat was a bitter pill to swallow for the previously undefeated Bearcats (9-1). Many thought they should have gotten a shot in the College Football Playoff, and players and coaches were outspoken about seeing Friday’s game as a measuring stick for the best Group of Five teams.

Coach Luke Fickell was asked if the last-second loss validated Cincinnati’s proclamation it can play with anybody.

“We’re not there just yet,” the Bearcats’ fourth-year coach said. “And that’s what keeps motivating you. Closing it and sealing (victory) is part of that.”

The No. 9 Bulldogs finished the pandemic-shortened season at 8-2. The win was the 44th for Georgia’s senior class, which ties the 2005 and 2019 teams for the most in school history.

Now the Bulldogs will have to await the decisions of several NFL draft-eligible underclassmen, including Ojulari, who closes his sophomore season with a team-best 8.5 sacks.

“It was important for me just to make sure the seniors went out with a win because they’ve worked so hard in this unpredictable season,” Ojulari said. “It was just another opportunity to play with my brothers and it was great.”

Georgia couldn’t run the ball effectively, finishing with only 71 yards on the ground. But sophomore wide receiver George Pickens proved a tough matchup for the Bearcats, hauling in seven passes for 135 yards and a touchdown. Pickens had 12 catches for 175 yards in winning MVP honors in last year’s Sugar Bowl win.

Georgia fell behind 21-10 after Cincinnati’s Jerome Ford broke loose on a 79-yard touchdown run on the second play of the second half. The Bulldogs kept the score there for the rest of the third quarter.

But Georgia’s defense got the comeback started in the fourth. Ojulari’s sack of quarterback Desmond Ridder caused a fumble that was recovered by fellow outside linebacker Adam Anderson at the Bearcats’ 25-yard line. Two plays later, Zamir White scored on a 9-yard run. Georgia’s two-point conversion attempt failed, but they were within five at 21-16 with 13:20 to play.

On the Bulldogs’ next possession, two pass plays for 65 yards to Kearis Jackson and Pickens quickly got the Bulldogs down to Cincinnati 10-yard line. But after another sack of Daniels on second down – he was dropped three times in the game -- Georgia added another Podlesny field goal. That got the Bulldogs within two with 6:43 to play.

Smart made a decision he wasn’t sure was the right one when he chose to punt the ball back to Cincinnati with three minutes to play. But, once again, the defense pulled him through with Tyrique Stevenson’s pass break-up on third-and-2. That forced a Bearcats punt from their own 38 with 1:34 to play.

Completions to Pickens, Kenny McIntosh and John FitzPatrick got the Bulldogs to the 36 with 15 seconds remaining. Daniels was unable to connect with Demetris Robertson and Jermaine Burton on two more pass attempts, leaving six seconds on the clock for Podlesny’s try.

His kick went right down the middle, with at least three or four yards to spare.

“I told the coaches before the game I was good from about 54 or 55,” Podlesny said. “Once we got there, I just tried to slow my breathing and go through my routine. The snap and hold by Jake Camarda was unbelievable, and I hit it solid.”