ATLANTA – Alabama is heading back to the national championship game – by a mere 5 yards.
AJ McCarron threw a 45-yard touchdown pass to Amari Cooper with 3:15 remaining, and the No. 2 Crimson Tide barely held off No. 3 Georgia 32-28 in a Southeastern Conference title game for the ages Saturday.
After an apparent game-clinching interception by Alabama was overturned on a video review, Georgia’s Aaron Murray completed a 15-yard pass to Arthur Lynch, a 23-yarder to Tavarres King and a 26-yarder to Lynch, who was hauled down at the Alabama 8 as the clock continued to run.
The Bulldogs were out of timeouts.
Instead of spiking the ball and gathering themselves, the Bulldogs snapped the ball with 9 seconds to go. Murray attempted a pass into the corner but it was deflected at the line, winding up in the arms of Chris Conley in the right flats.
Surprised to get the ball, he slipped down at the 5.
Georgia couldn’t get off another play. Alabama celebrated as confetti fell from the Georgia Dome roof. The Bulldogs collapsed on the field, stunned they had come so close to knocking off the team that has won two of the last three national titles.
The Tide will get a chance to make it three out of four when they face top-ranked Notre Dame for the BCS crown on Jan. 7 in Miami.
I’m ready to have a heart attack here, Alabama coach Nick Saban said.
For the Bulldogs (11-2), the consolation prize will likely be a spot in the Capital One Bowl, though they certainly looked like a team deserving of a BCS bid. Georgia coach Mark Richt said his team had the play it wanted at the end, but Alabama ruined it by getting a hand on the ball. And if it had fallen incomplete instead of going to Conley, who instinctively caught it, the Bulldogs could have tried another play.
I told the guys I was disappointed, but I’m not disappointed in them, Richt said. They’re warriors. We had a chance at the end.
In a back-and-forth second half that looked nothing like a game in the defensive-minded SEC, the Crimson Tide trailed 21-10 after Alec Ogletree returned a blocked field goal for a touchdown in the third quarter.
Alabama rallied behind a punishing run game, finishing with 350 yards on the ground, an SEC championship game record. Eddie Lacy – the game’s MVP – rumbled for 181 yards on 20 carries, including two TDs. Freshman T.J. Yeldon added 153 yards on 25 carries, also scoring a TD.
But the Tide won it through the air.
With Georgia stacking the line, McCarron fooled the Bulldogs with play action and delivered a perfectly thrown pass to Cooper, who beat Damian Swann in single coverage down the left side.
Georgia played like a champion, too.
The Bulldogs got the ball back at their 15 with 1:16 remaining. Alabama broke into a celebration when a pass down the middle for Conley was deflected and Dee Milliner appeared to make a diving interception. But the replay showed the ball hit the ground, so Murray and the Georgia offense trotted back on the field for their last gasp.
And what a gasp it was.
Just not quite enough.
Todd Gurley led Georgia with 122 yards rushing, including a couple of TDs. Murray was 18 of 33 for 265 yards with one touchdown and one interception.