- The game: Georgia vs. Auburn, SEC Championship Game, Dec. 2, 2017, Atlanta.
- The moment: Wild celebration follows Bulldogs’ 28-7 win over Auburn to secure SEC title
- Key player or players: Davin Bellamy, Lorenzo Carter, Roquan Smith, DaQuan Hawkins-Muckle, Nick Chubb and Sony Michel
- What it meant: Georgia’s seniors and Smith all made key plays to help the Bulldogs avenge another loss and win their first SEC championship in 12 years.
ATHENS — The confetti. It just kept coming down.
Someone somewhere knows how much fell on the Georgia Bulldogs after their SEC Championship Game victory over Auburn on Dec. 2. But in that moment, as the Bulldogs and their fans were celebrating the remarkable accomplishment achieved that day, it just seemed like it kept coming and coming. And they were loving it.
This would have represented the zenith, the crowning achievement, of most other seasons. For decades, the goal for Georgia has been the same for any SEC team. That is, to win the conference title and then let the chips fall where they may, whether that be a National Championship Game berth or some bowl below that. It just so happened that 2017 was Year 4 of the playoff era, so there was still more for the Bulldogs to pursue.
But even future goals and challenges couldn’t dampen the sheer joy shared by the Georgia team and its championship-starved fan base. That was evident in the normally reserved Kirby Smart, who was unbridled in his post-game jubilation. After the win was in the books, he was running around on the field at Mercedes-Benz Stadium hugging anyone he happened to run into.
“Bringing it back to my alma mater is great,” said Smart, a UGA letterman who took over the program in December 2015. “I was very fortunate to get a coach on the team that won one in 2001. But to see Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, Roquan Smith, hugging on the stage in tears because they care about each other so much. That’s why I do this. It’s because of these guys. It’s great to bring it back to Georgia. The Bulldog Nation is certainly starved, but these young men deserve a ton of credit.”
The real “moment” from Georgia’s 28-7 victory over Auburn was Smart standing on the podium hoisting the SEC championship trophy with Smith, Michel and Chubb and all the other players celebrating behind them. Not only was it the title that they’d sought since offseason workouts began the previous January, but it also represented the final box checked in what became known as the Revenge Tour. By defeating the Tigers, the Bulldogs beat the only team to beat them in 2017 and added that ‘W’ to the four others during the regular season that avenged losses in 2016 to Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Florida and Georgia Tech.
That, more than anything else, was the primary reason Chubb, Michel, Bellamy and Carter opted to return for their senior seasons rather than to begin their professional pursuits. Dating back to summer workouts, they had talked about righting all the wrongs from the previous season.
“I put it on the white board in the weight room — ‘Revenge Tour,’” said Bellamy, an outside linebacker from Chamblee. “We knew we had a better team than we showcased last year. We lost a lot of close games. These seniors knew that wasn’t Georgia football. So, we were going to fix it. We planned this. I’m telling you.”
It was fitting, then, that some of the biggest plays in the SEC title game were logged by said seniors.
Auburn already led 7-0 and was threatening to expand that lead two minutes into the second quarter. But on third-and-6 at the Georgia 14, Bellamy’s sack and strip of quarterback Jarrett Stidham resulted in Smith recovering the fumble for the Bulldogs. Seven plays later, Georgia had tied the game.
The Bulldogs held a precarious 13-7 early in the fourth quarter when Carter got in on the act. His hit on Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson, who had victimized the Bulldogs in the first meeting, jarred the ball loose. Smith was again there to scoop it up at midfield and he returned it 9 yards to the Tigers’ 39. Georgia would score four plays later and added a 2-point conversion to make it 21-7.
Those two momentous plays stood out in a game that included a lot of them, including DaQuan Hawkins-Muckle’s block of a chip-shot field goal attempt in the third quarter and D’Andre Swift’s exhilarating 64-yard touchdown run to effectively close the door on Auburn with 10:34 remaining in the game.
The rest of the contest was pretty much an extended Georgia celebration. The Bulldogs deserved it, especially those seniors who had envisioned the moment for almost a year.
“This has been the plan since Day 1,” Bellamy said, thinking back to the previous December when he, Carter, Michel and Chubb announced they were coming back. “When we all decided that, this was the plan. We knew the type of seniors we had coming back. We knew we had great players, great leaders, great backs. We planned all of this.”
For that, there just could not be enough confetti.
Top 10 moments series
- No. 4, Georgia makes first appearance in CFP championship
- No. 5, ‘squib-kick’ defense’ allows Dogs to steal 3 points in Rose Bowl
- No. 6, UGA’s starting QB goes down in season opener
- No. 7, J.R. Reed’s’s scoop-and-score in rout of Florida
- No. 8, Javon Wims’ circus catches thwart Tech’s hope for upset
- No. 9, an almost forgotten play in Tennessee blowout
- No. 10, the flea-flicker against Mississippi State