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Georgia has exorcised Nick Satan.
The Georgia Bulldogs ended a seven-game losing streak to Alabama and coach Nick Saban and won their first national championship since 1980 with a 33-18 victory over the No. 1 Crimson Tide at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis Monday night.
“This is a special moment for the University of Georgia, a special moment for this team,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said.
Smart snapped a personal 0-for-4 losing streak against Alabama and Saban, whom he coached under at Alabama for nine seasons before becoming the Bulldogs’ coach in 2016.
Smart became just the second former Saban assistant to beat Saban as a head coach as Saban fell to 25-2 in that category. Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher became the first former assistant to beat Saban during the regular season.
One of Smart’s losses to Saban was in the national championship game of the 2017 season – 26-23 in overtime after Georgia led 13-0 at halftime.
“That one will be remembered for a long time, but this one will be remembered for much longer,” Smart said. “Go Dogs.”
Saban was trying to win his seventh national championship at Alabama since the 2009 season and his eighth overall, having won his first at LSU in the 2003 season.
“You kicked out butt in the fourth quarter,” Saban told Smart as they met at midfield after the game. “God bless you.”
Georgia outscored Alabama 20-9 in the fourth quarter and 27-9 in the second half after trailing 9-6 at the break. Saban lost his third national championship game as he fell to Clemson in the 2016 season and to Clemson again in the 2018 season.
Smart noticed something after the first half about his team, which lost the SEC Championship Game to Alabama 42-24 last month after leading 10-0 early.
“I saw it at halftime,” Smart said. “There were people that said we weren’t conditioned enough, and it pissed a lot of people off on our sideline. And they went to work. I’m proud of these men.”
The Bulldogs extended a 19-18 lead to 26-18 with 3:33 to play in the game on a 15-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Stetson Bennett to tight end Brock Bowers, climaxing a 62-yard drive in seven plays that ate up more than three minutes.
Georgia defensive back Kelee Ringo’s interception of quarterback Bryce Young and 79-yard return for a touchdown iced the game as it put the Bulldogs up 33-18 with 54 seconds to go.
“What a big play and a big moment,” Smart said. “How about this university? How about these fans?”
Georgia went up 19-18 with 8:09 to play in the game with the third lead change of the second half on a 40-yard touchdown pass from Bennett to wide receiver Adonai Mitchell on second-and-18. Mitchell was well covered by Khyree Jackson, but Mitchell made the catch. The Bulldogs’ two-point conversion run failed.
Bennett completed just 17 of 26 passes for 224 yards with two touchdowns, but he threw no interceptions. Young, pressured all night, completed 34 of 56 passes for 352 yards and a touchdown, but he was intercepted twice. He also badly missed the play of top receiver Jameson Williams, who left in the second quarter with a knee injury.
The Tide scored its first touchdown of the game with 10:14 to play in the game for an 18-13 lead on a third-and-goal, 3-yard touchdown pass from Young to tight end Cameron Latu, who pushed off before making the catch with a no-call from officials. Young was running hard to his right under pressure, then threw against his body’s momentum to a kneeling Latu for the touchdown.
Alabama went for two, but Young was tackled before he could pass.
The touchdown was set up by Georgia’s first turnover of the game on a controversial call. Bennett looked like he threw an incomplete pass under a heavy rush, but officials ruled he fumbled deep in Georgia territory. Alabama defensive back Brian Branch’s body language suggested he thought it was an incomplete pass as he recovered the bouncing ball nonchalantly and barely – if not accidentally – kept his foot inbounds.
And the Tide took over at the Georgia 16-yard line before the touchdown. After a review, the fumble recovery by Alabama stood as officials ruled that Bennett was losing the ball before his pass attempt.
Alabama, trailing 13-9 early in the fourth quarter, reached a first and goal at the Georgia 5-yard line on a 28-yard pass from Young to freshman wide receiver Agiye Hall, who was playing a more significant role because of Williams’ injury.
But Alabama could not punch it in. After an incomplete pass, tailback Brian Robinson Jr. pushed to the 3-yard line, but Young missed again after a heavy rush. Alabama settled for a 21-yard field goal from Will Reichard to cut Georgia’s lead to 13-12 with 12:59 to play after a 72-yard drive in 10 plays.
Georgia took its first lead of the game at 13-9 with 1:20 to go in the third quarter on a 1-yard run by tailback Zamir White. A 67-yard run by tailback James Cook to the Alabama 13-yard line set up the go-ahead touchdown.
The explosion of offense in a defensive standoff came one play after Georgia dramatically flipped the momentum of the game when Jalen Carter blocked Reichard’s 48-yard field goal attempt with 3:18 left in the third quarter. The Tide had just driven 68 yards in 17 plays behind Robinson but got nothing out of it.
The Tide lost Williams to a knee injury in the second quarter after he caught a 40-yard pass to the Georgia 35-yard line. After visiting the medical tent, Williams walked to the locker room but did not return. His catch set a up a 45-yard field goal by Reichard with 11:12 to go before halftime for a 6-3 lead. Williams left the game with four catches for a game-high 65 yards at the time. He entered the game as Alabama’s leading receiver with 75 catches for 1,507 yards and 15 touchodwns.
“They had a lot of injuries. They lost Jameson Williams in a tough situation,” Smart said. “But our kids kept fighting and never doubted.”
Alabama previously lost its other top receiver, John Metchie III, for the season because of a knee injury suffered in the 41-24 win over Georgia in the SEC title game on Dec. 4. Metchie finished his season with 96 catches for 1,142 yards and eight touchdowns.
Alabama led 9-6 at the end of the first half as Reichard kicked two other field goals – a 37-yard boot for a 3-0 lead at the 9:55 mark of the first quarter and another 37-yard kick for a 9-3 lead with 7:07 to go in the second quarter.
Georgia’s Jack Podlesny kicked a 24-yard field goal early in the second quarter for a 3-3 tie. Wide receiver George Pickens set up the field goal with a 52-yard reception to the Alabama 29-yard line. Podlesny also kicked a 49-yard field goal to get the Bulldogs within 9-6 with 3:09 to go before halftime.
Young was under pressure and hurried throughout the first half, but he managed to complete 15 of 26 passes for 206 yards. Bennett completed 11 of 17 passes for 127 yards.
Neither team could dent the other’s defense in the first half. Alabama mustered just 10 yards rushing on 10 carries, while Georgia was only slightly better with 26 yards on 13 carries.
Former Georgia coach Vince Dooley, who led the Bulldogs to their previous national championship in the 1980 season, watched the game from the pressbox.
“I hope it doesn’t take that long again,” Smart said.