ATHENS — Had Georgia won the national championship — and Lord knows how close it came to doing that — the College Football Playoff National Championship Game in Mercedes-Benz Stadium no doubt would have been the greatest moment of the 2017 season. Alas, the Bulldogs came up short.
In case anybody needs a reminder, Alabama won, 26-23, in overtime. After Rodrigo Blankenship’s 51-yard field goal staked Georgia to a 23-20 lead to start the extra period, Crimson Tide quarterback Tua Tagovailoa connected with wide receiver DeVonta Smith for a freshman-to-freshman 41-yard touchdown pass on second-and-26.
Obviously, that was not a great moment for Georgia — nor for senior defensive backs Malkom Parrish and Dominick Sanders — but there were a lot of great ones logged before that. One can start with that aforementioned field goal.
Blankenship bailed out the Bulldogs and quarterback Jake Fromm, who was unable to get rid of the football and took a sack of 13 yards on third-and-6 at the 21 on Georgia’s overtime possession. Blankenship made that 51-yarder — his second of more than 50 yards in the playoffs — and all 3 of his field-goal tries in the game. That was an important factor considering Alabama’s kicker, Andy Pappanastos, missed 2 of 4, including a 36-yard kick that would have won the game in regulation.
Georgia being in the game was a moment all on its own. Bulldogs fans made up at least 60 percent of the record 77,430 spectators in the building, and probably even more. As had been the case all season, UGA’s fan base went to great lengths to support its football team, wherever it went. In 2017, that, of course, included trips to Chicago and South Bend, Ind, for the Notre Dame game and to Pasadena, Calif., for the Rose Bowl. In each case, they snatched up tickets that were commanding exorbitant prices on the secondary market, including prices upward of $2,000 each for the championship game.
The Atlanta Football Host Committee did a tremendous job with the lead-up events and conducting the game itself. The same can’t be said of World Congress Center Authority and the people that operate Mercedes-Benz Stadium, who admittedly had their authority hijacked by the U.S. Secret Service and left people outside in the cold rain for more than an hour so President Donald Trump could attend the game. But the game itself and the events surrounding it were a first-rate experience.
There were two highlight moments for the Bulldogs in the contest:
- The first came early in the third quarter when sophomore Tyler Simmons shot in from the left side and blocked an Alabama punt inside the Crimson Tide’s 20-yard line. The momentous play was nullified because an official called Simmons offsides on the play. Video replays revealed that Simmons actually had not entered the neutral zone and therefore the play should have counted. Georgia led 13-0 at the time (2 minutes into the third quarter) and would have had the ball inside the Alabama 20.
- The other shining moment for the Bulldogs came later that quarter when Fromm connected with Mecole Hardman on an 80-yard touchdown pass. On third-and-11 at the Georgia 20, Hardman got past Alabama’s Tony Brown down the right sideline and hauled in Fromm’s pass, which traveled nearly 40 yards in the air. Hardman also shook Brown’s tackle attempt at the 15 and remarkably managed to stay in bounds. The play lit up The Benz with an ovation that sounded like a sonic boom in the domed stadium. The Bulldogs led, 20-7.
Alas, Georgia couldn’t make it stand up. Alabama scored 13 unanswered points to tie the game and send it into overtime. There the Crimson Tide won their fifth national championship in the last nine years. The Bulldogs, who had waited 37 years since their last, will have to wait a little longer.
But the experience told Georgia and its fan base that they’re on the right track and it shouldn’t be that long of a wait again.
“An incredible opportunity for the University of Georgia,” coach Kirby Smart said afterward. “It was our privilege to represent our institution, our fans and players in what I think is one of the greatest events in all of sports. … The standard has been set by these young men.”
Top 10 Moments series
- 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