ATLANTA — Alabama had a chance to end the game in regulation. The Crimson Tide could have won the national title with a 36-yard field goal as time expired. But instead, Alabama kicker Andy Pappanastos missed the field goal, sending the game into overtime.
The Bulldogs received the ball first in overtime, and the Crimson Tide sacked Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm on third down, forcing Georgia to attempt a 51-yard field goal that barely made it through the uprights.
Georgia sacked quarterback Tua Tagovailoa on the first play, but that didn’t matter. On the following snap, Tagovailoa, the backup quarterback who entered the game after halftime, sailed the ball to DeVonta Smith in the end zone, ending the game with a 26-23 Crimson Tide win.
“It just sucks,” junior linebacker Roquan Smith said. “Knowing everything we've been through since last January, just seeing the game go out on a play like that, it really sucks and it's heartbreaking.”
After what had been a season with storybook-like qualities, Georgia came close to winning a national title for the first time since 1980. But ultimately the Bulldogs came up short.
Down by seven points with fewer than four minutes left in the final quarter, Alabama’s Calvin Ridley caught a fourth-down touchdown pass in the end zone to tie the game. Georgia had an opportunity to drive for the win in regulation, but the Bulldog offense could not notch a single first down.
When Alabama got the ball back, it also failed to capitalize when it missed what could have been a game-winning field goal and had to wait a few extra minutes to celebrate the win after overtime.
The Bulldogs dominated the first half, shutting out an Alabama team that hasn’t been held scoreless in the first half since 2007. At one point in the third quarter, Georgia led by 13 points.
Meanwhile, Alabama made a change at quarterback at halftime, swapping from Jalen Hurts to Tagovailoa. Tagovailoa sparked the offense, leading the Crimson Tide to a touchdown on his second possession in the game.
“We told everybody at halftime there was no question they were going to him because they were struggling and they needed some momentum,” Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said. “He provided them some juice, got them some momentum, got the momentum swung back their way."
The true freshman quarterback finished the day throwing for 166 yards and rushing for another 27 yards. Ultimately, he won the game for Alabama.
Jake Fromm had an imperfect game. Since the run game wasn't dominant as usual, Fromm was forced to throw 32 times, more than he ever has this year.
He threw an interception on Georgia’s first possession and then tossed another pick when Georgia was driving in the third quarter for what looked like it could become a score that helped seal the game early.
Still, Fromm finished the day throwing for 232 yards, and Smart said the young quarterback “kept us in the game with his decision making.”
“Obviously nobody in this locker room every wants to feel the way they do right now ever again,” Fromm said. “That's plenty of motivation for going back to work and being back next year and definitely being on the top side.”
Georgia’s usually powerful run game had a hard time gaining yardage against the Alabama defense, rushing for just 133 through the entire game. Senior Nick Chubb, who has the second most rushing yards in SEC history, finished the day with 25 yards on the ground. Fellow senior Sony Michel led the position group with 98 rushing yards.
While the game stood as the final chance to make history for a contingent of Georgia seniors, underclassmen were the team’s bright spots throughout the day. Mecole Hardman, a sophomore receiver, scored two touchdowns, one of which was an 80-yard reception, and Rodrigo Blankenship, a redshirt sophomore, notched three field goals.
This Georgia team nearly cemented its season in Georgia lore. Instead, these players will join a list of Bulldogs who have come close but haven’t been able to finish the season with a national title.