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Alabama wins SEC crown as time runs out on Georgia

Bulldogs come up five yards short at end of SEC championship, sending Crimson Tide to the BCS title game.

December 01, 2012|Chris Dufresne
  • Alabama running back Eddie Lacy (42) reacts after scoring one of his two touchdowns in the Crimson Tide's 32-28 victory over Georgia in the SEC championship game.
Alabama running back Eddie Lacy (42) reacts after scoring one of his two… (Jamie Martin / Associated…)

ATLANTA — — Alabama will play Notre Dame for the national championship in the game everyone wants to see, but only after playing the game no one wanted to end.

File it to your smartphone memory or even carve it in a park bench: Alabama 32, Georgia 28.

The attendance was 75,624 and the venue was the Georgia Dome.

Crimson Tide fans will tell their grandkids about this game in 25 years while Bulldogs fans stomp their feet and plug their ears.

It was tremendous, glorious, stressful and painful — all in the same three Saturday seconds.

Alabama (12-1) won the Southeastern Conference title and a trip to the Bowl Championship Series title game Jan. 7 because Georgia (11-2) made the fatal mistake of completing a pass.

They teach you to catch passes, not drop them, but that's what Georgia receiver Chris Conley should have done as the clock expired and he lay helpless five yards from his team's title dreams.

"It stinks," Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray said. "It's tough to take a game like that."

Georgia thought it had lost with 43 seconds left on an interception by Alabama's Dee Milliner, but the play was ruled an incompletion after a replay review.

After its reprieve from the booth, Georgia regrouped from its 28 and raced down the field on Murray completions of 15, 23 and 26 yards.

With no timeouts and the clock running, Georgia had first down at the Alabama eight-yard line as players furiously scrambled into position for what everyone presumed would be a ferocious spiking of the ball.

Instead, though, with the clock ticking inside 15 seconds, Georgia elected to run another play.

It was designed to be a "fade" to Malcolm Mitchell to the right corner, with Conley running a "speed out" underneath.

But Murray's pass was deflected at the line of scrimmage and went to Conley, who made a sliding catch as he stayed inbounds.

"Not a good thing," Georgia Coach Mark Richt would later say.

It may go down as the worst three-yard completion in the history of Georgia football.

The clock kicked down "Five, four, three, two, one" and Georgia was left five yards short.

Conley, instinctively, did what he was taught to do.

"I would have caught it," Georgia receiver Tavarres King said. "I definitely would have caught it. You always want to catch the ball. It's second nature."

Richt was ultimately responsible for the decision.

"Well, spiking the ball takes time," Richt explained. "We had plenty of time to call a play, so we called a play."

Georgia was trying to catch off guard an exhausted and retreating Alabama defense.

"We just ran out of time," Richt said. "It was just one of those things."

The play capped a furious 60 minutes that was anything but a typical SEC defensive battle.

The teams combined for 906 total yards with Alabama rushing for a SEC championship-game record of 350 yards on what was supposed to be a vaunted Georgia defense.

And all these points and yards came gushing after the first scoreless first quarter in title-game history.

Crimson Tide backs Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon rolled like bowling balls into the Bulldogs' secondary.

Lacy averaged 9.1 yards per carry on his way to 181 yards and two touchdowns.

"He was pretty relentless the way he was competing in the game," Alabama Coach Nick Saban said.

Yeldon wasn't shabby, averaging 6.1 yards per carry on his way to 153 yards and one touchdown.

Mental breakdowns by Alabama helped hand Georgia a 21-10 lead.

A successful fake punt by Alabama was negated by a delay penalty, which led to a successful fake punt by Georgia that led to a Bulldog touchdown.

Alabama also settled for a field goal at the end of the half after Saban mismanaged the clock by leaving two unused timeouts in his pocket on his way to the locker room.

Georgia got to its 21-10 lead when Alec Ogletree returned a blocked field-goal try 50 yards for a touchdown.

Alabama responded with a quick score and, after a Georgia three-and-out, the Crimson Tide drove 74 yards in seven plays to take the lead at 25-21.

The Crimson Tide ran the ball on all seven plays, with Lacy doing the most damage.

"They just lined up and knocked us off the ball," Richt said.

Georgia took the lead back, 28-25, and then Alabama seized it for good with 3:15 left on Amari Cooper's 45-yard pass from AJ McCarron.

The winner of Saturday's SEC title was earning a trip to the BCS title game no matter what, though Alabama's pedigree presents the more attractive matchup against Notre Dame.

Alabama and Notre Dame have each won eight Associated Press national titles, more than any other school.

Because of rules that allow only two schools from the same conference to play in a BCS bowl, Georgia likely drops to the Chick-fil-A Bowl while Florida (11-1) takes the SEC's second bid.

"Do I think we're worthy of a BCS bowl, yes I do," Richt said.

Alabama is on the cusp of winning its third BCS title since 2009. It would be the fourth for Saban, who led Louisiana State to the 2003 championship.

Saban says this team is not as talented as some of his others, but may be more resilient.

"We have a little different kind of team," Saban said.

Saban wasn't ready to talk about Notre Dame so soon after an emotional, draining win.

He said Alabama would first get a few days off.

"And I'm not going to get ready to play them [Notre Dame] until we start practicing," he said. "So I've got a couple of weeks, I think."

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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