ATLANTA - 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 some time.
It fit the definition of an instant classic, with the most lead changes in SEC championship game history. But the last one didn't go Georgia's way, and neither did the stunning, inexplicable final sequence.
Georgia fell, 32-28, to the defending national champions. The result had stark consequences: While Alabama is headed to the BCS championship game, Georgia is almost certainly going to the Cotton Bowl, but will also be mulling over the final few seconds for as long as can be seen.
Georgia, needing a touchdown, took over at its own 14 with under a minute left. Quarterback Aaron Murray heaved a pass to midfield. The ball was there, but so was a defender. The ball was knocked in the air, and picked off by All-American cornerback Dee Milliner. Or at least it initially appeared that way. After a length review, it was ruled that the ball hit the ground. Georgia had life back, albeit not much.
Murray went to work. Two passes later, the Bulldogs were at the Alabama 34. Then Murray hit Lynch over the middle, and he was tackled at the 8. The clock stopped for the yard-markers to move.
Georgia had time to spike the ball and get one, perhaps two more plays. But instead they ran a play. And it was a decision that will be talked about for a long time in Georgia history.
Murray threw right. The ball was tipped. Conley grabbed it, and fell down at the 3. The clock continued, and with no timeouts, the game was over.
Alabama players celebrated and confetti rained down.
Georgia players could hardly move. Kenarious Gates knelt down for so long that trainers checked on him. It took minutes before every Bulldog had finished walking off the field, stunned.
It was the second straight loss in the SEC championship for the Bulldogs. But this time the performance was so much better, and even in a loss
Georgia struck first, Murray hitting Jay Rome for a 19-yard touchdown early in the second quarter. The Bulldogs were the better team for awhile, and at one point had the ball at midfield, leading 7-0.
But two plays turned it toward the Tide:
First, Eddie Lacy burst through for a 41-yard touchdown run with 1:59 left. It was by far the longest play of the game to that point for Alabama.
Then, as Georgia tried to answer and go back up before the half, Murray made his first major mistake. He underthrew Chris Conley downfield, and also didn’t see Alabama safety HaHa Clinton-Dix, who picked it off and returned it into Bulldog territory.
That allowed Alabama, spurred by a couple McCarron scrambles, to get in position for a chip-shot field goal as the half ended.
So Georgia trailed at the half, but unlike last year’s SEC championship, the Bulldogs showed life in the third quarter. A lot of life.
Facing third down on the first series, Murray hit Tavarres King for a 31-yard completion. Then Gurley took over: He uncorked a couple good runs, then punched it in from four yards out to put the Bulldogs back up.
Another huge sequence then unraveled:
Alabama drove downfield, and was facing third down at the Georgia 32. McCarron’s pass over the middle was knocked away by Georgia’s Branden Smith – but the side judge threw a flag, calling interference.
But the umpire intervened, ruling it was tipped at the line, allowing interference. Whether it was tipped was debatable, but so was the pass interference. In any case the Crimson Tide had to settle for a 49-yard field goal try.
Georgia’s Cornelius Washington broke through and blocked it. The ball bounced out, and Ogletree picked it up and was gone. The 55-yard touchdown gave Georgia a 21-10 lead with 6:31, and the sideline was delirious.
But Alabama answered right back, spurred downfield by a couple big penalties. After the second one, a pass interference call, T.J. Yeldon scored from 10 yards.
The gashing continued on the next drive. Lacy raced for 32 yards on first down, and on the first play of the fourth quarter Lacy scored from 1 yard out to put Alabama back ahead.
Then it was Georgia’s offense’s turn to response: Murray hit King for a 45-yard pass down to the Alabama 10, and two plays later Gurley barreled in from 10 out. The Bulldogs were back ahead.
The Georgia defense finally made a stop, forcing an Alabama punt. The Bulldogs took over from their own 7, but went three-and-out. Georgia’s defense went back on the field, Alabama near midfield with 5:24 left.
The critical play came at the 4:01 mark: Facing third-and-6 at exactly midfield, and after a Georgia timeout, Yeldon ran right and barely got the first down.
Then came the bigger play: McCarron hit a wide-open Amari Cooper downfield for a 45-yard touchdown. Damian Swann was beat on the deep fly pattern, and Alabama had the lead again with 3:15 left.
Georgia took over at the 25. On first down Alabama’s Adrian Hubbard blew past right guard Dallas Lee, and sacked Murray for an eight-yard loss. That was too much of a hole for Murray, who threw two incompletion, and the Bulldogs had to punt.
It wasn't over. The Georgia defense came up with the stop after three running plays. And with 1:08 left, Murray and Georgia's offense had to go 86 yards.