Georgia Bulldogs quarterback Stetson Bennett (13) and lineman Jamaree Salyer (69) celebrate with the trophy after defeating Alabama in the national title game Monday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Photo by Aaron Josefczyk/UPI | License Photo
Jan. 11 (UPI) -- The Georgia Bulldogs captured their first national championship since 1980 with a 33-18 win over the Alabama Crimson Tide in the College Football Playoff finale Monday night at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
In vanquishing the Crimson Tide, the Bulldogs (14-1) halted Alabama head coach Nick Saban's quest for a fourth title in six years. The Tide (13-2) were seeking to become the first team in the CFP era -- since 2014 -- to win back-to-back national championships.
"I told them we burned the boats. The only way home was through them," Smart said he told his team about the Tide.
The Bulldogs' last national title came more than four decades ago when freshman running back Herschel Walker guided them to a 12-0 record and a Sugar Bowl win over Notre Dame.
To end that drought, Georgia needed to dethrone SEC foe Alabama, which had won seven straight against the Bulldogs -- dating to 2008.
The Crimson Tide opened the championship game with a 14-play, 56-yard drive, which culminated with Will Reichard's 37-yard field goal that gave Alabama a 3-0 lead over the Bulldogs.
Georgia responded with a 24-yard field goal early in the second quarter to tie the score at 3-3. Reichard converted a 45-yard kick and a 37-yarder to boost the Crimson Tide's lead to 9-3 with 7:07 left before halftime.
Jack Podlesny drilled a 49-yard field goal for the Bulldogs to trim their deficit to 9-6 at the half.
It was the first time in the CFP era that neither team recorded a touchdown in the first half, and the five field goals between the Crimson Tide and the Bulldogs tied the most in a BCS/CFP national title game.
Late in the third quarter, Georgia provided the first touchdown of the game when running back Zamir White punched it in from one yard out. White's 1-yard plunge, which was set up by James Cook's 67-yard run, gave the Bulldogs their first lead of the contest with 1:20 left in the third.
Trailing 13-9 entering the final quarter, Alabama reclaimed the lead after a 21-yard field goal and Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young's 3-yard touchdown pass to tight end Cameron Latu following a fumble by Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett. The Tide failed to convert a two-point conversion, keeping their advantage at 18-13 with 10:14 remaining.
On the Bulldogs' ensuing drive, Bennett answered with a towering 40-yard touchdown pass to receiver Adonai Mitchell. Suddenly ahead 19-18, Georgia also failed to convert a two-point chance that would have made it a three-point game.
After an Alabama three-and-out, Georgia increased its lead to 26-18 after Bennett found star tight end Brock Bowers for a 15-yard touchdown with 3:33 left.
Needing a touchdown and a successful two-point conversion to force overtime, Young tossed an interception to Kelee Ringo that was returned 79 yards for a touchdown, securing the crown for the Bulldogs.
"We played a heck of a game against a heck of a team for the first three quarters of the game," said Saban, who was denied his eighth national championship.
"Nobody can take the SEC championship away from this team, the Cotton Bowl championship. We just didn't finish the way we needed to finish."
Bennett, who was named offensive MVP in the title game, completed 17 of his 26 pass attempts for 224 yards and two touchdowns. Georgia safety Lewis Cine, who notched seven total tackles and a pass breakup, was the defensive MVP.
White finished with 13 carries for 84 yards and a touchdown, while Cook added 77 yards on six carries for the Bulldogs.
Young racked up 369 passing yards with one touchdown and two interceptions for the Crimson Tide. Brian Robinson Jr. led Alabama with 68 rushing yards on 22 carries.