Georgia comes up short against Alabama in SEC title game

semerson@macon.comDecember 1, 2012 

ATLANTA -- There were glazed expressions. Blank expressions. Every Georgia player and coach walked with hardly a word to the locker room. One stayed kneeling so long the trainers had to check to make sure he was OK.

“I didn’t really wanna leave the field because I didn’t want to admit the fact that it’s over,” Georgia tight end Arthur Lynch said.

“I’ll definitely remember this loss forever,” senior cornerback Sanders Commings said. “Because if we would’ve won, we’d be playing in Miami for the national championship.”

Instead, Georgia’s quest for a national title is over, while Alabama moved on after a stunning 32-28 victory Saturday in the SEC championship game at the Georgia Dome.

It was perhaps the best game all of college football has seen in years. And it ended with the most stunning finish the sport has seen in such a momentous game.

It fit the definition of an instant classic, with the most lead changes in SEC championship game history. But the final one didn’t go Georgia’s way, and neither did the stunning, inexplicable final sequence.

The Bulldogs had just received an unexpected second life. What was initially ruled an Alabama interception at midfield was overturned on replay. So with still only less than a minute left, quarterback Aaron Murray returned to the field, and completions of 15, 23 and 26 yards suddenly had the Bulldogs just 8 yards from the end zone.

The clock was ticking down, and the Bulldogs had no timeouts. But they could have spiked the ball to set up a final play or two. Instead, Murray ran a play. And it was a decision that will be talked about for a long time by Georgia fans.

Murray looked for receiver Malcolm Mitchell in the corner of the end zone, but the ball was tipped at the line.

Sophomore receiver Chris Conley might go down as the first player to ever blame himself for catching a ball after losing it in the lights. Conley’s instincts said to catch it, so he did. But he do so while falling down at the 5-yard line and in bounds. There was no time to run a play, and the game ended.

Alabama players celebrated, and confetti rained down. Georgia players were stunned.

“Normally when you get a completion, you get (another play). Then you look up at the clock and realize it’s gone,” senior linebacker Christian Robinson said. “You’re like, ‘What just happened,’ looking around. Then realizing it’s over, and you can’t go back and change it.”

Afterwards, Conley was harsh on himself.

“It was right there in front of me, and instinctively I grabbed it, when I should have let it go. We were given the opportunity to make plays (Saturday), and unfortunately I let my team down,” he said. “You want to know the situation, and you want to know what you’re going into. You want to be prepared for those things. Unfortunately with the chaos I wasn’t thinking straight. So I wasn’t able to make the smart play.”

But Conley was put in the situation because of the decision to try the play, rather than spike the ball and take time calling a play. Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, calling the game from the booth, admitted there was “confusion” in the final seconds. The consensus among players and coaches was they wanted to catch Alabama off guard and unable to substitute.

“We work these situations a lot -- after a big first down, to try to get there and not waste those three to four seconds and get a play called in a hurry and get a shot at the end zone,” Bobo said. “It just didn’t happen like that.”

“Well, spiking the ball takes time,” head coach Mark Richt. “We had plenty of time to call play, so we called the play, and the goal was to take a shot at their back right end of the end zone, and the ball got batted, the ball got tipped, and it landed to a receiver that was running a speed out (route).”

The craziness of the finish was appropriate, given the back-and-forth nature of the game. Last year Georgia was blown out in the championship game by LSU. But this time the performance was much, much better.

Georgia struck first, getting a 19-yard touchdown pass from Murray to Jay Rome early in the second quarter. But Alabama rallied to lead at the half, spurred by a 41-yard touchdown run by tailback Eddie Lacy.

Alabama’s running game, and Georgia’s inability to stop it, became the story of the second half. Alabama set an SEC championship game record with 350 rushing yards, including 181 by Lacy and 153 by T.J. Yeldon.

But Georgia had the benefit of big plays on defense and special teams. The biggest came when Cornelius Washington blocked a field goal, which Alec Ogletree grabbed and returned 55 yards for a touchdown. That gave Georgia a 21-10 lead in the third quarter.

The Crimson Tide rallied, behind the running game, but Georgia’s offense rallied, too. The Bulldogs led 28-25 after Todd Gurley scored on a 10-yard run with 12:54 left.

But for all Alabama’s running, it was a long pass play that was the game-winner. Quarterback AJ McCarron hit Amari Cooper for a 45-yard touchdown pass with 3:15 left.

A chance for the Bulldogs to go to the national championship game was gone.

Still, Georgia had its final chance, which players, coaches and fans will think about for a long time.

“Hopefully I won’t dwell on it forever,” Robinson said. “It’s messed up. But this team brought life back. I think people believed. And I think people still realize how close we really were to doing something that hadn’t been done in 30 years.”

Senior nose tackle John Jenkins put it another way.

“A lot of people thought we were gonna get rolled over,” he said. “We proved that we’re a better team than what people expect us to be.”

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