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Bulldogs Capture National Championship


James Cook and Zamir White Celebrate National Championship (Picture via Georgia Twitter)

INDIANAPOLIS — Kelee Ringo intercepted a pass and returned it 79 yards for a touchdown with 54 seconds remaining to put the finishing touches on a stellar defensive effort that helped lift No. 3 Georgia to a 33-18 win over No. 1 Alabama in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game on Monday night at Lucas Oil Stadium.


For the Bulldogs, the national championship is the program’s first since the undefeated 1980 season. This Georgia squad went through the regular season without a loss, only to fall to Alabama 41-24 in the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 4. Georgia bounced back in the Orange Bowl playoff semifinal with a dominating 34-11 win over No. 2 Michigan, and on Monday the Bulldogs outscored Alabama 27-9 in the second half to win the championship.


“What a special moment for the University of Georgia and what a special moment for this team,” coach Kirby Smart said on TV after the win.


Alabama got the ball first and drove down to the Bulldog 19-yard line before kicking a 37-yard field goal, taking an early 3-0 lead. For a few minutes early in the drive it appeared that Georgia had struck first when nose tackle Jordan Davis stripped and sacked quarterback Bryce Young and linebacker Nakobe Dean returned the ball 45 yards for a touchdown, but upon review it was ruled that Young had thrown the ball for an incomplete pass.


Georgia’s offense didn’t get rolling until late in the first quarter, when quarterback Stetson Bennett hit wideout George Pickens deep down the left hash for a 52-yard gain to the Alabama 29-yard line. The Bulldogs eventually had to settle for a 24-yard Jack Podlesny field goal that tied the game 3-3 with 12:35 left in the half.


Alabama regained the lead, 6-3, on the ensuing drive when Reichard connected on a 45-yard field goal. The Crimson Tide added a 37-yard field goal on its next drive for a 9-3 advantage. Alabama had a first down on the 8 but had to settle for the field goal after the Georgia defense made three stops, including a 13-yard sack by Channing Tindall on third-and-goal from the 6.


The trading of field goals continued on Georgia’s next drive as Podlesny booted a season-long 49-yarder to make it 9-6 Alabama with 3:06 left in the half. At the half, Alabama had a 216-153 advantage in total offense, with both defenses playing tough on third down — the offenses were a combined 6-for-17. The defenses were also tough against the run, combining for 36 combined yards on 23 attempts.


Georgia got the ball to start the second half and got runs of 11 and 19 yards from Zamir White before being forced to punt. The Bulldogs got the ball back soon after when safety Christopher Smith picked off an overthrown Young pass at the Alabama 43-yard line, for the first turnover of the game. Georgia couldn’t capitalize, however, and Jake Camarda’s 36-yard punt was downed at the 2.


Alabama drove down to the Georgia 30 on the ensuing possession and came up empty after nose tackle Jalen Carter reached up with his left hand and blocked Reichard’s 48-yard field goal attempt.


On the first play of Georgia’s next drive, James Cook run up the middle and then down the left sideline for 67 yards to the Alabama 13. Three plays later, White ran the ball in from the 1 for the game’s first touchdown and a 13-9 Georgia lead with 1:20 left in the third quarter.


Georgia’s defense again kept Alabama out of the end zone on the ensuing possession. The Crimson Tide drove into the red zone and had a first-and-goal at the 5 but had to settle for a 21-yard field goal, cutting the Bulldog lead to 13-12 with 12:59 to play in the game.


Alabama then produced the first Georgia turnover of the game, forcing a Bennett fumble and recovering the loose ball at the Bulldog 16 with 11:35 to play. The Crimson Tide later regained the lead when Young hit tight end Cameron Latu for a touchdown on fourth down from the 3. Georgia stopped Young on Alabama’s 2-point attempt, keeping the score 18-13 with 10:14 to remaining.


Georgia’s passing game went to work on the next drive, starting with an 18-yard completion to Jermaine Burton and later ending with a 40-yard touchdown pass to Adonai Mitchell in the right side of the end zone. Alabama was offsides on the play so Bennett took the free shot deep and it paid off with the touchdown. Georgia tried a 2-point conversion and Cook was stopped short of the goal line, making it 19-18 Bulldogs with 8:09 to play.


The Bulldogs forced a three-and-out on the ensuing Alabama drive and took over on offense at the UGA 38 with 7:10 left on the clock. Powered by some strong running by White, and a pass interference penalty, Georgia drove deep into Alabama territory, chewing up the clock in the process. On third-and-1 at the 15, Bennett hit tight end Brock Bowers on a screen and Bowers ran it in for a touchdown with 3:33 to play. Podlesny’s extra point put the Bulldogs up 26-18.


Alabama was driving on its next possession until Ringo intercepted Young’s pass and returned up the right sideline all the way for the clinching touchdown, setting off a huge celebration on the Georgia sideline.


Georgia’s defense had to get back on the field soon after to again try to stop Alabama’s desperation drive. Sacks by defensive end Travon Walker and linebacker Robert Beal Jr. helped close out the victory, and on the final play of the game Nolan Smith sacked Young — a fitting way to end a spectacular defensive performance by the Bulldogs and a well-earned national championship.