ATLANTA — Georgia took a punch — took a whole lot of punches, really — but twice rallied from 14 points down, including in the fourth quarter, to defeat a tenacious, opportunistic Ohio State team 42-41 in the Peach Bowl.
Georgia returns to the national championship game, where only TCU stands between the Dawgs and a second straight title.
Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett found AD Mitchell for the go-ahead 10-yard touchdown strike with 54 seconds to play, completing a furious comeback and setting up a heart-stopping finish.
Ohio State, led by a fantastic showing from QB C.J. Stroud, drove the ball to the edge of field-goal range in the final minute and had one last shot to win it, but kicker Noah Ruggles missed a 50-yard field goal attempt wide left in the closing seconds.
That capped the biggest fourth-quarter comeback of the playoff era, and it will leave the Buckeyes wondering how they let a 38-24 late lead slip away.
Stroud threw for 348 yards and four touchdowns and was seemingly unstoppable for parts of the game, but the vaunted Georgia defense came up with some stops down the stretch.
In the end, the night belonged to Bennett, who was a Heisman Trophy finalist alongside Stroud.
The game in Atlanta was the second straight thrilling College Football Playoff semifinal of the day after TCU upset Michigan 51-45 in an equally action-packed Fiesta Bowl.
That game took place in Glendale, Arizona, 1,800 miles to the west, and it shaped the pregame mood. Ohio State fans filing into the cavernous Mercedes-Benz Stadium reveled in the Fiesta Bowl playing out on the enormous halo screen above the field, cheering every TCU touchdown and groaning as Michigan kept hanging around. When Michigan fumbled away its last chance at a national championship berth, Ohio State fans exulted in both the schadenfreude of watching their hated rival lose in the most painful way possible, and in the unexpected hope that maybe, just maybe, this wasn’t going to be your standard double-blowout CFP semifinal weekend.
After two ineffective opening drives — Ohio State three-and-outed, Georgia missed a 47-yard field goal — the walloping began. Over the next 11 drives, the teams combined for seven touchdowns and a field goal, a scoring barrage like Godzilla and King Kong trading blows while the earth shook. By the time the dust settled on the half, Ohio State led 28-24, and the Buckeyes had Georgia’s full attention.
Stroud and his star receiver Marvin Harrison Jr., in particular, feasted on Georgia's defense in the first half. With the Georgia surprisingly ineffective on the line, Stroud had more than enough time to target Harrison and three other receivers for 238 yards in the first half. Georgia gashed Ohio State for big play after big play, but Bennett often reverted to his walk-on form, throwing one critical interception that Ohio State flipped into its third touchdown of the night and making the kinds of mental mistakes that he’d largely erased from his performance over the past season.
If the first half was about Ohio State throwing haymakers, the third quarter was when the Buckeyes set their feet, holding Georgia scoreless. Georgia’s Jack Podlesny missed a second field goal, this one from 52 yards, negating a Bulldog defensive stand that left Ohio State pinned in the back of its own end zone. On the ensuing drive, Ohio State bullied Georgia, both up front and in the secondary, and drove all the way down inside Georgia’s 10 before settling for a field goal. With 15 minutes left in the game, Ohio State led by 14 points ... and no one in the building was comfortable.
Georgia opened the fourth quarter by grinding all the way down to the Ohio State 3, but yet another botched Bennett play, this one an awkward backward pass, kept Georgia out of the end zone. The Bulldogs' first points of the second half came on a field goal that cut the deficit to 38-27. For a moment, it seemed like Ohio State would salt the game away with another score.
But there's a reason the Dawgs are the national champions. On Georgia's next drive, Bennett found a wide-open Arian Smith — Ohio State's coverage broke down and fell down — and one two-point conversion later, Georgia was down only three points and right back in the game.
On the ensuing drive, Stroud guided the Buckeyes down the field with a combination of tight passes and surprisingly effective runs, including his own 17-yard scramble well into Georgia territory. But Georgia, buoyed by the momentum of a de facto home crowd, held Ohio State to a field goal.
Trailing 41-35 with just under 3 minutes to play, it was time for Bennett and the Bulldogs' offense to go to work. And they got it done with a swift five play, 72-yard drive capped by the winning pass in the back of the end zone. The Georgia-favored crowd rejoiced.
Contact Jay Busbee at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @jaybusbee.