Georgia safety Josh Harvey-Clemons sits on the sidelines with his head in his hands following Saturday’s heartbreaking defeat for the Bulldogs, 32-28, against Alabama in the SEC Championship game.
ATLANTA — Georgia was one play away the end of a 30-year wait for a shot at another national championship.
Instead of a celebrating a comeback to remember, Aaron Murray and the No. 3 Bulldogs will have to live with coming up 5 yards short.
“It came down to one play to win the SEC championship and play for the national championship,” Murray said.
Georgia’s last-minute rally ended on the Alabama 5-yard line as time expired, giving the No. 2 Crimson Tide a 32-28 win in Saturday’s Southeastern Conference championship game.
Alabama (12-1) advances to the national championship game against Notre Dame. Georgia (11-2) was denied its first national championship game since the 1982 season.
Only 1 minute, 8 seconds remained when Georgia took possession at its 15. It seemed to be too much field and too little time.
Still, Murray said the Bulldogs were confident.
“We have run four or five successful one-minute drives this season already,” he said. “We did more the ball extremely well, and we had a chance to win it.”
Murray completed four passes, three to tight end Arthur Lynch and one to Tavarres King. The offense remained on the field when an apparent interception by Alabama’s Dee Milliner was overturned when video review determined the ball hit the ground.
The last completion, a 26-yarder to Lynch, gave the Bulldogs a first down at Alabama’s 8. Murray believed Georgia could run two plays with 15 seconds remaining. He said he sensed Alabama’s defense wasn’t prepared if he could pull off a quick snap, so instead of spiking the ball the ball to stop the clock, he tried a fade pass intended for Malcolm Mitchell in the back corner of the end zone.
“It’s either a catch and a touchdown or it’s an incomplete pass and we still have time for a play, to take a quick shot with it,” Murray said.
Instead, the ball was tipped. George receiver Chris Conley caught the deflection and was tackled at the 5. With no timeouts remaining, Georgia couldn’t run another play.
“It probably would have been the greatest comeback in Georgia history,” Murray said. “It was exciting, that’s for sure.”
Exciting and deflating. Georgia players collapsed on the field. Some remained down on one knee, staring in stunned disbelief, as confetti began to fall on Alabama’s celebration.
King called the last play “insane.”
“It’s just something crazy that happens like that,” King said. “It’s just crazy. A crazy moment.”
Murray had another description.
“It stinks,” the quarterback said.
Murray completed 18 of 33 passes for 265 yards with one touchdown and one interception in the game that carried the potential to define his career.
Instead, the game belonged to AJ McCarron and the Crimson Tide.
McCarron threw a 45-yard touchdown pass to Amari Cooper with 3:15 remaining. McCarron was 12 of 21 for 162 yards with an interception.
Georgia took its last lead at 28-25 on a 10-yard run by Todd Gurley, who had 122 yards rushing with two touchdowns, early in the final quarter.
Gurley couldn’t match Alabama’s 350 yards rushing. Eddie Lacy had 181 yards with two touchdowns. T.J. Yeldon added 153 yards rushing with a touchdown.
“They’ve got a great running game and two great running backs,” said Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree.
Keith Marshall had only three yards on two carries as Georgia’s complement to Gurley.
Alabama, which has won two of the last three national championships, now has a chance for another. It will face Notre Dame for the BCS crown on Jan. 7 in Miami.
“I’m ready to have heart attack here,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said.
Georgia’s consolation prize will likely be a spot in the Capital One Bowl, though they certainly looked like a team fully 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.
“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. We just didn’t get it done.”
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 Ogletree returned a blocked field goal for a touchdown in the third quarter.
The Bulldogs’ sideline erupted in jubilation as Georgia appeared to take control of the game.
But Alabama rallied behind a punishing run game and then 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.
Georgia played like a champion, too.
The Bulldogs punted the ball back to Alabama with 2:25 left, relying on its defense to finally stop the Tide. Georgia used up its final two timeouts, forced a punt and got the ball back at its 15.
The last-minute drive fell short, but Murray said the Bulldogs could be proud of their effort.
“We’re a great team,” Murray said. “We’ve worked extremely hard. I feel for our guys.”