Georgia storms back, edges Ohio State to make CFP title game

Buckeyes miss game-winning FG as Georgia heads to CFP final (0:32)

No. 1 Georgia heads to the College Football Playoff national championship after Ohio State kicker Noah Ruggles hooks the game-winning field goal. (0:32)

ATLANTA -- For the bulk of the second half of its College Football Playoff semifinal game against Ohio State, it appeared Georgia was not going to get the chance to defend its national championship.

Then Stetson Bennett delivered yet another play for the ages. Bennett threw a 10-yard pass to Adonai Mitchell with 54 seconds left, leading the Bulldogs to an improbable 42-41 comeback victory over Ohio State on Saturday in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl and a spot in the national title game against TCU on Jan. 9.

The Buckeyes had one final shot to win, but Noah Ruggles' 50-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left with 3 seconds left -- setting off a wild celebration on the Georgia sideline, with Bennett running onto the field with his arms stretched out in victory.

Georgia, which entered the fourth quarter trailing 38-24, completed the largest fourth-quarter comeback in a CFP game.

"Our guys are extremely resilient," Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart said. "We talked at halftime about some games that we have been in this year that we've been behind in. I had no doubt that our team would come out fighting. We didn't play our best football game. A lot of that had to do with Ohio State."

Georgia opened as a 13-point favorite over TCU at Caesars Sportsbook, the largest point spread for any College Football Playoff or BCS Championship Game. Miami was a 12-point favorite over Ohio State in the 2002 BCS Championship Game.

The Buckeyes appeared to be in full control in the fourth behind C.J. Stroud and a defense that had dominated up front for the bulk of the game.

But Bennett showed the poise that led the Bulldogs to the national title a year ago. Despite trailing by 14 points headed into the fourth quarter, Georgia never wavered in its belief it would win the game. In fact, players remembered back to the Missouri game earlier in the season, when the Bulldogs entered the fourth quarter trailing by 10 points and won 26-22.

"We had been through something very similar at Missouri. So it was just understanding that, truthfully, we had been through what we felt was worse," center Sedrick Van Pran said. "So we just wanted to keep pushing."

Ohio State led 38-27 when Bennett threw a 76-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Arian Smith after safety Lathan Ransom fell down on the play with 8:41, trimming the lead down to three.

After Ohio State kicked a field goal to go up 6, Georgia got the ball back with 2:36 to go. Bennett calmly and efficiently led Georgia down the field, capping the drive with the game-winning score. Van Pran noted that teammates took turns in the huddle reminding everyone, "Do your job. Nobody be Superman. Everybody do their job."

"Just looking at everybody and saying, 'We haven't played our best, and we haven't done our jobs to the best of our ability, but we're here now,'" Bennett said. "It's in our hands now. Where else would you rather be? Having the ball with two minutes left, and if you score a touchdown, you win the game. I looked around, and there was just a whole bunch of just determined, strong stares from all the dudes. It gave me confidence, and everybody else had confidence when we went down the field."

Now, Georgia will have a chance to become the first team to defend its national title since Alabama in 2011-12.

"If you would have told me that when we were down whatever we were down in the fourth, I would have been like, 'You are crazy'," Bennett said when asked what being in another title game would be like. "But we'll see you there."

Stroud finished going 23-of-34 for 348 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions and added a career-high 66 yards on the ground. The Buckeyes had two 100-yard receivers in Emeka Egbuka and Marvin Harrison Jr.

But the game changed for Ohio State offensively after Harrison left the contest late in the third quarter after taking a hit to the head in the end zone. From that point forward, Ohio State scored only two field goals the rest of the game. Georgia also dialed up more pressure in the fourth quarter, blitzing Stroud on eight of his 14 dropbacks. Stroud went 2-of-6 for 17 yards and was sacked once on those plays, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Harrison's absence was large, and so was the fact Ohio State had a makeshift backfield thanks to injuries and depth concerns. In addition, tight end Cade Stover left the game with a back injury and was taken to the hospital.

"To say that losing Marv didn't have an impact on the game, it absolutely did," Ohio State coach Ryan Day said.

But until that moment, Stroud was masterful. While Ohio State might have felt good about the matchup advantage it had with Harrison and Egbuka on the Georgia cornerbacks, Stroud showed patience and a scrambling ability that turned mundane plays into memorable ones.

On his second touchdown pass of the night, Stroud escaped two Georgia linemen who nearly had him in their grasp, ran to his right and threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to Harrison in the corner of the end zone. By the time the first half was over, Ohio State led 28-24 and Stroud was 15-of-19 for 238 yards and three touchdowns, while Harrison had five catches for 106 yards and two touchdowns.

That continued in the second half. After forcing a three-and-out on Georgia's opening series of the third quarter, Ohio State marched down the field, and Stroud threw a 10-yard pass to Egbuka on a beautiful bit of misdirection, as Egbuka ran behind the line and up an open seam for the score to give them an 11-point lead.

But as they have done so often with Bennett behind center, the Bulldogs found a way. Bennett made plays when he had to, especially in the fourth quarter. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Bennett went 4-of-4 for 152 yards and two touchdowns on passes thrown 15-plus yards downfield in that quarter alone.

Bennett won game MVP honors after going 23-of-34 for 398 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. Asked what more there is to say about Bennett, teammate Kenny McIntosh said, "He's a hard worker. He's a hard-fighting guy. But the job's not done yet. He's still got to do it one more time. Once he does that, you can call him whatever you want."

After Ohio State got the ball back with 54 seconds left, Stroud got Ohio State down to the 31-yard line, thanks in large part to a 27-yard scramble.

"The last drive, I seen how much time we had with timeouts, and I knew we could do it," Stroud said. "I tried my hardest to get us down there. I think I left my heart out on that field."

Ruggles lined up for a shot to win the game, but his kick did not have much of a chance. McIntosh dropped to his knees, then giddily ran onto the field. When the kick went wide, Van Pran said, "You always believe, but when things actually happen, it was truly remarkable to see."

In the end, it was jubilation for Georgia, but a gut-punch for an Ohio State team that had played well enough to win.

"They're an unbelievable team, dude. Wow," Bennett said. "We fought, we fought and they were beating us, it seems like the whole game. And then we made a few plays, and ... unbelievable."