INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – After 41 agonizing years, the Georgia Bulldogs weren’t about to let another championship slip through their fingers.
Not even after a weird escape and a recovery gave Alabama a touchdown with just over 10 minutes left in the national title game on Monday night.
The gritty Bulldogs and their undersized quarterback, the former walk-on known as “The Mailman,” ultimately delivered a National Championship to the Red and Black faithful.
The fact that they did this against Nick Saban and the mighty Crimson Tide, the team that had caused the Dawgs so much grief, only made the triumph even sweeter.
And in addition to Atlanta Braves to win a world series? Suddenly a city and state that has seen so much sporting heartache is like Winnersville, USA
The final was 33-18 – a disappointing score for a match that was a nasty old-school field goal battle for almost three quarters.
It was a thing of beauty for the Bulldogs.
“I’m telling you what, there’s going to be a ripped apart property in Indianapolis tonight,” coach Kirby Smart shouted afterward. give a big kiss at the Championship Trophy, echoing the celebratory words once spoken by late Georgia radio man Larry Munson.
It wasn’t the only move that has united all the years since Georgia’s last national title.
Smart hugged Vince Dooley, 89, the coach of that previous title team, who had recently recovered from a fight with COVID-19 before heading to Indianapolis.
They are both championship coaches now.
Smart won his trophy with a dominant defense – which rebounded resoundingly from a 41-24 loss delivered by Alabama in the Southeastern Conference Championship game – and a highly controversial decision to stay with Stetson Bennett as quarterback instead of the more advertised JT Daniels.
Alabama led 9-6 until Zamir White scored the first touchdown of the night on a one-yard run, sending the Bulldogs into the final period with a 13-9 lead.
After Bama’s fourth field goal made it a one-point game, the Tide took a huge hiatus.
It was the kind of game that snake-bitten Georgia had expected over the years, as every attempt to win her first national title since 1980 was rejected.
Under great pressure, Bennett attempted to throw the ball. But he slipped with his fingertips a fraction of a second before his right arm came forward, resulting in a fumble.
Everyone in the stadium thought it was an incomplete pass, even Drew Sanders of Alabama, who casually picked up the wobbly ball in his arms just before going out of bounds.
Officials confirmed their escape route after a lengthy video review.
Alabama quickly scored their first touchdown of the game. Just like that, the Tide was back ahead of 18-13, and every Georgia fan – from Indianapolis to Peach State – surely imagined how they would complain about this crazy game over a drink. era, weeks and years to come.
Only these Bulldogs wrote a different ending.
This time, it’s champagne everywhere!
Bennett, who first walked to Georgia and even spent a year playing in college, vindicated Smart’s faith after his big mistake.
“Our defense played such a good game,” said Bennett. “I wasn’t going to be the reason we lost the game.”
With fire in his eyes, Bennett needed just four games and a pass interference penalty to guide the Bulldogs to a touchdown that will be remembered as long as the games are played between the hurdles in Athens, Ga. .
The capper was 40 yard throw to freshman Adonai Mitchell in the right corner of an end zone, putting the Bulldogs back on top to stay at 19-18 after a failed two-point conversion.
This momentum, this score, seemed to lift the cloud that hangs over this program since its only consensual national title.
When Georgia got the ball back, Bennett increased the lead with a 15 yard touchdown to another freshman, Brock Bowers.
And, finally, with Alabama and their Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Bryce Young trying to put together a workout that could force overtime, Kelee Ringo picked up an assist and accelerated 79 yards past the Georgia bench for the deciding score.
After seeing five other SEC schools win a total of 15 national titles since its last championship – seven of them by Alabama, including a couple at direct expense from Georgia – the Bulldogs are back on top.
“I said to our guys, ‘The only way to get home is through them,’” Smart said, referring to Saban, his former boss and the Tide. “And they did.”
It took a lot longer than anyone might have expected in 1980.
It only made it softer.
Bennett wiped away the first tears he shed for as long as he can remember.
“I can’t describe it,” he said. “I have no words.”
Smart, a former Georgia defensive back, was recalled to his alma mater in 2016 with an explicit charge of producing this very moment.
Nothing less than a national championship would do.
That being taken care of, Smart does not intend to need another 41 years to start over. He challenged all those fans who turned Indy into Athens North.
“I just hope they remember that feeling and understand that they don’t need to be spoiled,” said Smart. “They have to stay hungry like these players.”
Come on, coach.
Let them spoil themselves a bit.
After 41 years, they deserve it.
Paul Newberry is a national sports columnist for the Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberry (at) ap.org or at https://twitter.com/pnewberry1963 and discover his work on https://apnews.com/search/paulnewberry