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ATLANTA – Missed it by that much.
Ohio State kicker Noah Ruggles hooked a potential, game-winning 50-yard field wide left to preserve a come-from-behind, 42-41 victory for No. 1 Georgia in a College Football Playoff national semifinal on Saturday night before a record crowd of 79,330 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“We got a good push from the line, but he just missed it,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said.
The defending national champion Georgia Bulldogs (14-0) will play No. 3 TCU (13-1) on Monday, Jan. 9, at Sofi Stadium in Inglewood, California (7:30 p.m., ESPN) for the national championship.
No. 2 Michigan fell to touchdown-underdog TCU, 51-45, at the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Arizona, in another heart-racing semifinal thriller earlier on Saturday.
The Buckeyes (11-2) led Georgia 21-7 in the second quarter, 28-24 at the half and by 38-24 early in the fourth quarter, but couldn’t hold on. They had Georgia’s defense guessing and missing for most of the night. Ohio State’s 41 points were the most given up by the Bulldogs since a 41-24 loss at Alabama in 2020. But the Bulldogs pulled off the largest comeback in the history of the CFP, which started in the 2014 season.
“My heart goes out to them,” Smart said. “They played well enough to win. We played well enough to win, too – just well enough to win. It was a very competitive, balanced game.”
Georgia Just Kept Coming Back
Georgia senior quarterback Stetson Bennett just wouldn’t be denied. He threw a 76-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Arian Smith to cut Ohio State’s lead to 38-35 with 8:41 to go. Then he found wide receiver Adonai Mitchell for the game winner from 10 yards out for the 42-41 lead with 54 seconds left.
Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud drove his team to the Georgia 32-yard line to set up the 50-yard field goal that wasn’t.
“We had done our job, and then we trusted the defense,” Bennett said. “At that point, it was up to, I guess, the kicker.”
And he missed it.
“I left my heart on that field,” said Stroud, who completed 23 of 34 passes for 348 yards with four touchdowns around four sacks.
“We worked so hard all year, and you’re right there,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “And you don’t get the victory.”
Bennett wrote another chapter to his heroic Bulldog history by completing 23 of 34 passes as well, but for 398 yards and three touchdowns around two sacks. Now, he can become the first Georgia quarterback in history to win back-to-back national titles.
“We were like snipers all night,” Smart said. “We just kept firing.”
Kirby Smart Timeout May Have Been Play Of The Game
And Smart made perhaps the call of the game with 8:58 to play in the game and trailing 38-27. Ohio State lined up to punt on fourth-and-one from its 34-yard line, but Smart noticed something funny.
“They were just not in their traditional formation,” Smart said. “They came up to the line quick. Everybody’s lined up tight. And we’ve seen it in the SEC.”
Smart smelled a fake, and called timeout.
“It was one of those gut reactions,” he said. “I didn’t think we had it lined up properly, so we called timeout.”
Day then decided against the fake that likely would have worked without the timeout. And the Buckeyes punted. On the next play, Bennett threw the 76-yard touchdown to Smith to cut Ohio State’s lead to 38-35. Had the Buckeyes converted the fourth down, they conceivably could have gone up 41-27 or 45-27.
Ohio State QB C.J. Stroud Put On A Clinic
Stroud was deadly accurate in the first half, hitting 15 of 19 for 238 yards and three touchdowns to give the Buckeyes a 28-24 lead. Ohio State’s 21-7 lead in the second quarter was Georgia’s largest deficit since it lost the SEC championship game to Alabama, 41-24, last season.
Georgia came back to take a 24-21 lead late in the first half. Then Stroud threw a 37-yard touchdown to wide receiver Xavier Johnson with 49 seconds to go in the second quarter for the lead.
Wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. caught touchdowns of 31 and 16 yards to help the Buckeyes take the 21-7 lead in the second quarter. Georgia had no answer for Harrison, who caught five passes for 106 yards in the first half alone. He suffered a concussion after a hit by defensive back Javon Bullard late in the third quarter, though, left the game for good, and did not add to his first half statistics.
A healthy Harrison for the whole game could have made a significant difference. Ohio State also lost starting tight end Cade Stover to back spasms.
Stroud completed 3 of 3 passes for 54 yards on his first drive of the third quarter to put the Buckeyes up 31-24. And the Buckeyes seemingly looked in control for most of the remainder of the game.
But Bennett took over again.
“Where else would you rather be?” he asked his teammates before Georgia’s final drive of 72 yards in five plays. Bennett took over with 2:43 to play and down 41-35. He hit 5 of 6 passes on the drive for 67 yards.
“That was a good game,” Bennett said. “It was even across the board.”
Georgia gained 533 total yards to 467. The Bulldogs rushed for 135. The Buckeyes gained 119.
Ohio State was so close.
“That’s the part of the game,” Day said, “that will sit in our stomachs for a long time.”