Kirby Smart leads No. 3 Georgia past No. 1 Alabama for CFP title
Field Level Media
Jan 11, 2022
The Nick Saban roadblock was looking like a real barrier for Georgia coach Kirby Smart.
However, one huge fourth quarter in the national-title game shattered that obstacle. Smart picked up his first win in five attempts against the Alabama coach when the No. 3 Bulldogs won their first championship in 41 years with a 33-18 victory over No. 1 Alabama in the College Football Playoff finale on Monday night at Indianapolis.
The victory on the big stage represents a stepping stone for Smart, who spent nine years on Saban's Crimson Tide staff before landing the Georgia job after the 2015 season.
Saban didn't begrudge his former defensive coordinator winning his first national crown at Alabama's expense.
"If we have to lose the national championship, I'd rather lose one to one of the former assistants who did a great job for us," Saban said of Smart. "He has done a great job for his program and his team. They deserve it."
Georgia certainly was the stronger team late in the contest. Offensive Player of the Game Stetson Bennett tossed two fourth-quarter touchdown passes and Kelee Ringo clinched the win with an interception return for a touchdown.
Bennett's 40-yard scoring pass to Adonai Mitchell with 8:09 remaining put Georgia ahead to stay, and the Bulldogs (14-1) piled on to win their first national title since the Herschel Walker-led team captured the 1980 crown.
Bennett threw a 15-yard scoring pass to Brock Bowers to make it 26-18 with 3:33 remaining before Ringo picked off a pass from Alabama's Bryce Young and returned it 79 yards for another score with 54 seconds to go.
The 20 points in the final 8:09 of the contest had special meaning to Smart.
"There were some people saying we weren't conditioned enough and that (ticked) off a lot of people on our sideline and they went to work," Smart said. "We came to fight, and I'm proud of these men."
Bennett completed 17 of 26 passes for 224 yards and Zamir White ran for a touchdown and as the Bulldogs avenged a 41-24 loss to Alabama in last month's Southeastern Conference title game.
Young, the Heisman Trophy winner, finished 35 of 57 for 369 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions for Alabama (13-2). Cameron Latu caught the TD pass among his five grabs for 102 yards.
Crimson Tide star wideout Jameson Williams had four receptions for 65 yards in the first 17 1/2 minutes before leaving for good due to a left knee injury.
Alabama outgained the Bulldogs 399 yards to 364 but wasn't crisp on offense. The Crimson Tide's Will Reichard kicked four field goals.
"We had a lot of opportunities," Young said. "We moved the ball relatively well. We didn't execute at the end of the day, and that's on me for us not finishing drives like we want to."
This was the second time in five seasons that the teams met in the CFP championship game. Alabama defeated Georgia 26-23 in overtime in the 2016-17 final.
The Bulldogs led 13-12 in the fourth quarter when Alabama's Christian Harris pressured Bennett and forced him to fumble, with a review upholding the call. The Crimson Tide's Brian Branch recovered the ball just before going out of bounds at the Bulldogs' 16-yard line with 11:35 left in the game.
Four plays later, Young hit Latu for a 3-yard scoring pass to give Alabama a five-point lead with 10:14 remaining. The ensuing two-point conversion pass by Young failed.
Bennett was irked with the sequence and motivated to bounce back from the miscue.
"I just knew there was no way we were going to let a turnover like that stop up from winning the national championship," Bennett said. "There was no way I was going to let that happen. I wasn't going be the reason we lost tonight."
Georgia moved back ahead just more than two minutes later when Bennett connected on the strike to Mitchell. James Cook's two-point conversion run was stuffed, and the Bulldogs led 19-18 en route to the victory.
The Crimson Tide were on top 9-6 in the third quarter when Reichard's 48-yard field-goal attempt was blocked by Georgia's Jalen Carter with 3:18 left.
Georgia took advantage as Cook broke free on the next play for a 67-yard run to the Crimson Tide 13. Three plays later, White scored from the 1 to give the Bulldogs a 13-9 advantage with 1:20 remaining in the quarter.
Alabama reached the Georgia 3 on its next drive but settled for Reichard's 21-yard field goal with 12:59 left in the game.
The teams combined for five first-half field goals -- three by Reichard, two by Georgia's Jack Podlesny -- and Alabama held a 9-6 lead at the break.
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