The Georgia Bulldogs are heading to Cali. Again.
Five years after Georgia started its ascent under coach Kirby Smart with a trip to the Rose Bowl, the No. 1-ranked Bulldogs are headed west again after defeating No. 4 Ohio State 42-41. The Buckeyes missed a 50-yard field-goal attempt with three seconds remaining.
This time Georgia will meet TCU at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California, in the College Football Playoff Championship game Jan. 9. The Horned Frogs (13-1) shocked No. 2 Michigan 51-45 in the Fiesta Bowl earlier Saturday.
The Bulldogs are getting back after yet another miraculous comeback engineered by quarterback Stetson Bennett. His touchdown pass to Adonai “A.D.” Mitchell with 54 seconds to play gave Georgia a 42-41 lead after it had trailed for most of the game. Mitchell scored the go-ahead TD when the Bulldogs defeated Alabama for the national championship in January.
““Emotionally, it takes a lot out of you to win a game like that,” Smart said. “It was an emotional roller coaster out there.”
Playing in the semifinals for the third time since that initial appearance in 2017, Georgia advances to the final for the third time – and the first time via the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. In keeping with the triplicate theme, it is the third victory this season at Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the Bulldogs (14-0). A record crowd of 79,330 packed in to see it.
The Bulldogs matched their school record for wins in a season set during last year’s run to the national championship. Now Georgia will seek to become the first repeat champion in the playoff era and the first in college football since Alabama did it in 2011-12.
““They’re defending national champions, they’re undefeated, they’re a great team,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “But there’s not one guy in our locker room doesn’t think we should’ve won the game.”
The Bulldogs and the Buckeyes (11-2) were playing for the second time in the history of the two storied programs. They last met in the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1, 1993, in Orlando, Fla., where No. 8 Georgia prevailed 21-14 over an Ohio State team quarterbacked by current ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit, who called Saturday night’s game.
After Bennett’s 10-yard TD pass to Mitchell completed a five-play, 72-yard scoring drive, Georgia’s defense had to stop Ohio State and quarterback C.J. Stroud, which it didn’t very often throughout the night.
Stroud did what he does, scrambling and completing passes to get the Buckeyes down to Georgia’s 31. But Ohio State would lose a yard, and Stroud threw two incompletions. So Buckeyes kicker Noah Ruggles was left with a 50-yard attempt, which he hooked badly to the left.
Ruggles had made a 48-yarder earlier in the second half. Georgia’s Jack Podlesny missed two field-goal attempts but made two as well.
Bennett, who also had a 76-yard touchdown pass to Arian Smith in the fourth quarter, finished with 398 yards and three touchdowns on 23-of-34 passing. He also had an interception.
“If we were going to win this game, we just couldn’t give up those explosive plays,” Day said.
Stroud, who finished third in Heisman Trophy voting – one spot ahead of Bennett – had 348 yards on 23-of-34 passing and four TDs.
“That probably was the most fun game I’ve played in my life,” Stroud said. “It just (expletive) we had to lose.”
Georgia was nothing if not resilient. Looking dead in the water trailing by 11 with 8:51 left, Bennett propelled them back in the game with a 76-yard touchdown pass to Smith on the first play from scrimmage. The Bulldogs didn’t hesitate in going for the two-point conversion, and it was successful on Bennett’s throw to Ladd McConkey. That got Georgia to within 38-35 with 8:41 to play.
It looked as though the Buckeyes might salt away the game after they managed to drive down for a field goal. But that left Bennett with one more chance.
“The end of games kind of frees you up,” Bennett said. “I mean, you’ve just got to have it.”
It was anybody’s ballgame after a first half that saw the Buckeyes score late to carry a 28-24 lead into the locker room. But the Bulldogs got the ball first to start the second half after hitting the Buckeyes for 313 yards in the first. Control of the game was still up for grabs.
Georgia went three and out.
Ohio State answered with a six-play, five-pass scoring drive that ended with a 10-yard TD pass to Emeka Egbuka to extend the lead to 35-24 and give the Buckeyes the most points scored against Georgia’s storied defense all season.
The Bulldogs punted again.
Georgia would finally get the defensive stop it so badly needed and a 22-yard punt return by Kearis Jackson to boot. So the Bulldogs took over at the Ohio State 32.
They would lose 2 yards in four plays, then Podlesny missed a 52-yard field-goal attempt, his second miss of the night.
When the Buckeyes answered with another pass-happy scoring drive – this one ending in a chip-shot field goal, it felt as though all momentum was on the Ohio State sideline.
Georgia 42, Ohio State 41
Georgia came back from a 21-7 deficit that represented its largest all season to take its first lead of the game, 24-21, on a 32-yard Podlesny field goal with just 1:44 remaining in the first half. Things were looking good for the Bulldogs at that moment because the Buckeyes were out of timeouts.
Turns out they didn’t need any.
Four Stroud completions to three different receivers covered the 75 yards with plenty of time to spare. Stroud’s second completion to Xavier Johnson on the drive resulted in a 37-yard touchdown and put Ohio State back on top, 28-24.
Georgia’s Bennett was nearly picked off by Cameron Brown on a second-down pass from his own 25. The Bulldogs, getting the ball first to start the second half, scrapped the idea of advancing the football at that point and took a knee to let the quarter end.
The halftime numbers were alarming to both defenses, but especially to the one from Georgia that had been so stingy all season. The Buckeyes lit them up with 248 yards, all but 10 coming through the air. Stroud was good on 15 of 19 passes and threw three touchdowns.
Bennett was pretty good, too, completing 12 of 19 passes for 191 yards and a score. But he also threw an interception. The primary difference was the Bulldogs could run the football. They had 122 yards at the half, with Kenny McIntosh getting 52 of his 56 on one run.
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