INDIANAPOLIS —Georgia football proved itself elite, outlasting Alabama with a 33-18 victory in the CFP Championship Game on Monday night at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Cornerback Kelee Ringo intercepted a Bryce Young pass in the final minute, returning it 79 yards with 54 seconds left to put the finishing touches on the Bulldogs’ first football national championship since 1980.
“I saw about a thousand drills we did throughout the year, and I knew Kelee would catch it,” Coach Kirby Smart said. “I didn’t know he’d run it back, but what a big play in a big moment.”
Ringo’s Pick-6 sealed Smart’s first win over his mentor, Alabama coach Nick Saban, in the coaches’ fifth meeting. Among those wins, The Tide beat Georgia in the CFP Championship Game following the 2017 season, coming from behind for a 26-23 overtime win.
The Bulldogs weren’t about to let this one slip away.
Georgia took over the game with a 20-0 surge in the fourth quarter, asserting itself with dominant play at the line of scrimmage.
Young, the Heisman Trophy winner, was 34-of-56 passing for 352 yards with one TD and two interceptions, and he was sacked three times.
UGA quarterback Stetson Bennett was named the offensive player of the game after his 17-of-26, 224-yard passing performance, having overcome four Alabama sacks and a turnover.
“The defense played great ... I wasn’t going to be the reason we lost this game,” Bennett said. “I can’t describe it, I love these guys.”
Safety Lewis Cine had seven tackles and a pass break-up and was named the defensive player of the game.
“These are things we practiced every day, day-in and day-out,” Cine said. “The goal was to not beat ourselves, and basically just execute.”
Indeed, Georgia was its own worst enemy when it fell to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game by a 41-24 count on Dec. 4 in Atlanta.
The Bulldogs regrouped to win the Orange Bowl CFP Semifinal over Michigan by a 34-11 count, bringing momentum and renewed confidence into their rematch with the Crimson Tide in Indianapolis.
Alabama was getting the better of Georgia early, leading a 9-6 slugfest when Jalen Carter changed the momentum of the game with a blocked field at the 3:18 mark of the third quarter.
James Cook burst 67 yards up the middle on the next play, cutting back on Alabama defensive back DeMarcco Hellams, and out-racing Tide defenders’ pursuit to the Alabama 13-yard line.
Three plays later, Zamir White scored from a yard out to give Georgia its first lead of the game at 13-9 with 1:20 left in the third quarter.
Alabama answered after its defense came up big, forcing a Stetson Bennett turnover in Georgia territory.
Bennett had rolled right on a third-and-8 from his own 27-yard line under pressure and, with Alabama linebacker Christian Harris draped around him, was unable to get his arm in forward motion and fumbled.
Tide safety Brian Branch recovered the ball at the Georgia 16-yard line, and five plays later, Young connected with tight end Cameron Latu for a go-ahead touchdown that made it 18-12. The Tide’s 2-point conversion failed when Nolan Smith chased down a scrambling Young.
Georgia answered quickly on the ensuing drive, going 75 yards on 4 plays and reclaiming the lead when Bennett hit Adonai Mitchell with a 40-yard TD pass with 8:09 remaining. The Bulldogs’ 2-point conversion failed with James Cook was unable to get around the corner.
The score enlivened the Georgia defense, which forced its third three-and-out series of the game.
The Bulldogs’ offense, meanwhile, stayed hot and grew physical.
Georgia moved the ball from its own 38 to the Alabama 15 with six called run plays and a pass interference before Bennett faked a handoff to Cook and hit Brock Bowers with a short pass that the freshman tight end took into the end zone for a 15-yard TD that made it 26-18 with 3:33 remaining.
The Bulldogs’ offense endured a shaky first half, with Coach Kirby Smart working to smooth Bennett’s nerves.
“I told him we’ve got to settle down,” Smart said during his half-time interview. “We haven’t had probably one drive that we didn’t have negative plays ..... We’re shooting ourselves in the foot, we’re first and 15, second and 20, you’re not going to have a good football team when you do that.
“We’ve got to get some things together on offense.”
George Pickens’ career-long 52-yard catch accounted for nearly half of the Bulldogs’ passing yards (127) through the first 30 minutes.
The Bulldogs defense, meanwhile, held the Tide out of the end zone.
Young completed 15 of 26 passes for 206 yards in the first half despite Alabama losing its leading receiver, Jameson Williams, to a knee injury at the 12:28 mark of the second quarter. Williams had already made 4 receptions for 65 yards in the game, and appeared destined for more.
Tide coach Nick Saban addressed Williams’ injury in stride at halftime.
“I think we’ve got other players that have an opportunity,” Tide coach Nick Saban said. “There are a lot of young guys out there. They’ve got talent.
“So they’ve got to play with a competitive character and have a chance to make some plays.”
Instead, it was Georgia’s youth making plays, with freshman Mitchell grabbing the 40-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter, and redshirt freshman Ringo with the longest Pick-6 in championship game history.