ATLANTA — In a game for the ages, the Alabama Crimson Tide gained a late lead and held off the upset-minded Georgia Bulldogs on their final drive to claim the 2012 SEC Championship Title and a berth in the BCS National Championship against Notre Dame in Miami on January 7.
Georgia won the opening toss and elected to defer to the second half, giving the Alabama offense the ball to open the game. Just as many expected, the game began as a defensive battle with each team bending but still holding the opposing offense off the scoreboard in the first quarter. The lone scoring opportunity came when the Bulldog’s freshman kicker Marshall Morgan missed a 50 yard field goal on Georgia’s second drive. The field goal attempt was set up by an Alabama fumble caused by Jarvis Jones and recovered by Christian Robinson at the Tide 40 yard line.
In the second quarter the Bulldogs finally broke on to the scoreboard for the game’s first points.
Facing a fourth down and ten, Georgia lined up for a punt, but coach Mark Richt had a trick up his sleeve. The snap went to tight end Arthur Lynch who found cornerback Sanders Commings on a 19 yard pass to the Alabama 21 yard line. That play marked the first career pass attempt for Lynch and the first career reception for Commings. Two plays later Murray found tight end Jay Rome on a 19 yard touchdown strike for his second touchdown reception of the year to give the Dogs a 7-0 lead.
Two drives later the Tide would threaten the Georgia lead, but an interception by Commings in the end zone would end the potential scoring drive. After being forced to punt, however, Georgia’s defense would give up a huge 41 yard touchdown run to Eddie Lacy which tied the game.
Georgia would begin a final drive of the half with 1:59 remaining in the second quarter, and two quick passes would advance the Dogs to their own 49 yard line. The drive would abruptly end when Murray threw a deep pass intended for Tavaress King. H. Clinton-Dix would cut the pass off in midair, and return the interception to the Georgia 47 yard line with 1:15 left in the contest. After a seven play drive, Alabama kicker Jeremy Shelley connected on a 22 yard field goal as time expired to give the Tide a 10-7 lead at halftime.
The Bulldogs would come out of the break hot and freshman running back Todd Gurley would quickly cap off a nine play, 75 yard drive with a three yard touchdown run to give Georgia a 14-10 lead. The Bulldogs would get another huge play after forcing Alabama to attempt a 49 yard field goal. Cornelius Washington would explode through the Alabama offensive line and block the kick. The ball would bounce right into the hands of linebacker Alec Ogletree who returned the ball 55 yards for a touchdown to extend the lead to 21-10.
The Tide would fight back and score on a 10 yard touchdown run by freshman T.J. Yeldon to finish a four play, 77 yard drive to close the gap to 21-16. Yeldon would get the call on the two point conversion attempt and walk into the end zone to make the score 21-18 where it would stay until the fourth quarter.
In the most exciting quarter of football in the SEC this season, Bama would quickly score on a one yard touchdown run from Lacy with to take a 25-21 lead with 14:57 left in the game.
Georgia would again fight back and score on a five play, 75 yard drive fueled by a 45 yard pass from Murray to King to regain the lead in the final quarter. Gurley would score his second touchdown of the night to give the Dogs a 28-25 lead with 12:54 left in the game.
The defining play of the game would come with 3:15 remaining in the game to give the Tide a late lead. On first down from the Georgia 45 yard line, McCarron would complete a huge 45 yard touchdown pass to Amari Cooper to give the Tide a 32-28 lead in the final moments of the last quarter.
After the next Bulldog drive stalled out, Alabama took the ball on a punt from Colin Barber and attempted to run the clock out to end the game. The Georgia defense held strong, however, and forced a Bama punt with 1:09 left in the contest.
What happened next was one of the most exciting drives in SEC Championship history that sent one team to the National Championship and left one team heartbroken.
Malcolm Mitchell received the Alabama punt at the Georgia 15 yard line to begin the final drive of the game. Murray found Lynch for nine yards, and Gurley picked up the first down for Georgia with a four yard run to keep the drive alive. On the next play, Murray threw a pass to receiver Chris Conley that was ruled an interception by an Alabama defensive back. Upon further review, the call on the field was reversed, giving the Dogs new life.
Murray would find Lynch for 15 yards, King for 23 yards, and Lynch again for 26 yards to get all the way to the Alabama eight yard line with 12 seconds remaining. With no timeouts, Georgia decided to line up for a play rather than spiking the ball to stop the clock. On what was supposed to be a pass to the back of the end zone, Murray’s pass was tipped at the line and flew straight into the hands on Conley at the five yard line. Conley went down with four seconds remaining, and time expired on the Bulldogs five yards from the end zone and a possible National Championship berth.
Lacy and Yeldon ended the night with 187 and 154 yards rushing in an incredible 350 yard rushing night for the Crimson Tide. Lacy was named SEC Championship Game MVP after scoring two touchdowns and rushing for nearly 200 yards. Cooper had 127 yards receiving with a touchdown, and McCarron was 13 for 21 with162 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
Georgia also boasted a 100 yard rusher in Gurley, who finished the night with 122 yards and two touchdowns. Murray was 18 for 33 through the air with 265 yards and a touchdown, and Kind led all receivers with 142 yards.
With the win the Crimson Tide claimed the SEC Title for the 23rd time. Alabama head coach Nick Saban said after the game, “I really couldn't be prouder of a team, not only for the way they competed in this game, the way they came back in the game on several occasions, twice in the game, overcome a lot of adversity; the competitive character that they showed out there against a very, very good Georgia team. I mean, I couldn't be prouder.”
MVP Eddie Lacy said that even though his team was not as crisp as usual early on, it is a 60 minute game and Bama battled until the end. “I think we came out and played great. It wasn't our best game like Coach said, but we was able to stay and weather the storm. Our offensive line did a great job blocking and making holes for T.J. and I. AJ did a great job passing. Coop did a great job as well. It was a good game, a hard-fought game and we knew we had to play hard for 60 and we came out and did it.”
Georgia coach Mark Richt was extremely proud of his team, but still disappointed at the final outcome and missing on an opportunity to play for the National Championship. “All right, (I was) really proud of our players. (I) Thought it was a great football game. Unfortunately, we ended up on the wrong end of the scoreboard. I think Alabama is a great football team, obviously. I think we're pretty good, too.
The boys gave great effort and really proud of them; coaches, very proud of them, as well. And somebody just asked me a second ago what I thought the difference was, and only thing I can think of is we just ran out of time. But (it was) just one of those games,” he said.
Alabama will take on Notre Dame in the National Championship on January 7, while Georgia will wait to learn their bowl fate after the gut-wrenching loss. The Outback Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Chic Fil A Bowl, and Capital One Bowl are all possibilities for Georgia, but none of those games will take away the sting of missing the National Championship game by five yards.