The defending champion Georgia Bulldogs escaped the Ohio State Buckeyes in the CFP Semifinal at the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, with a 42-41 victory.
The Buckeyes missed a potential game-winning field goal as the clock struck midnight on the East Coast to start 2023 the best way possible for the Bulldogs, with a second straight trip to the CFP National Championship.
Back-and-Forth First Half
The Bulldogs entered the semifinal as favorites, but the Buckeyes were not acting like it.
Ohio State struck first, as Heisman Trophy finalist C.J. Stroud connected with Marvin Harrison Jr. for a 31-yard score to put the Buckeyes in front.
Georgia answered with no issues, as another Heisman finalist, Stetson Bennett, led a methodical 8-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. Kenny McIntosh was on the receiving end of the 25-yard pass that evened the score.
No one could catch Kenny McIntosh ✌️
— SI College Football (@si_ncaafb) January 1, 2023
Stroud and the Buckeyes responded by going 75 yards over 11 plays, capped off with a Miyan Williams touchdown. Ohio State quickly found themselves back on offense after a Bennett interception, and Harrison Jr. found his way into the endzone for a second time.
Bennett and company didn’t hit the panic button quite yet, as they proceeded to put together three straight scoring drives to take a 24-21 lead. Kendall Milton found the endzone on the ground and then Bennett added a rushing score of his own.
Ohio State gained possession with under two minutes to play in the half, and Stroud quickly moved them down the field. Two plays of 15 or more yards, including the 37-yard pass to Xavier Johnson for the touchdown, gave the Buckeyes a 28-24 halftime lead.
Buckeyes Control Third Quarter
The third quarter was the lowest-scoring quarter out of both CFP Semifinal games, with just 10 points scored. However, all 10 belonged to the Buckeyes.
Ohio State scored on its first possession of the second half as Emeka Egbuka found himself on the end of a 10-yard pass from Stroud.
CJ STROUD 4th TOUCHDOWN PASS!! pic.twitter.com/NUN8JTYmmJ
— Barstool Ohio State (@BarstoolOSU) January 1, 2023
The only other score of the quarter came in the final minute. After failing to take advantage of a first and goal opportunity, Ohio State settled for a Noah Ruggles 25-yard field goal to take a 38-24 lead.
Georgia struggled mightily on offense to start the half. The Bulldogs totaled 11 plays for 15 yards in their three full third quarter drives, including a missed field goal. The final play of the quarter, a 17-yard completion to Kenny McIntosh, totaled more yards than Georgia had throughout the rest of the quarter.
The completion signaled quite the momentum shift as the game headed into the fourth quarter.
It Comes Down to One Quarter
The Bulldogs opened the quarter at their own 42-yard line and proceeded to work into Ohio State territory. Bennett put together an important drive deep into Buckeyes’ territory but were forced to settle for a field goal.
Trailing by 11, the Bulldogs needed a big defensive stop. And they got just that.
Stroud was stopped just shy of the first down sticks on third down to force a punt after a three and out. Georgia took just one play to find pay dirt again, as Bennett connected with Arian Smith for the 76-yard score. The Bulldogs were successful in the ensuing two-point conversion attempt, and the deficit was all of a sudden cut to three.
As time began to dwindle in the final quarter, it became clear that a touchdown for Ohio State would almost put Georgia away. It was once again time for the Bulldogs’ defense, which had been atop the nation and SEC all year long, to make a key stop.
Stroud put together the longest drive of the game, chewing almost six minutes off the clock, but was forced to settle for a field goal.
Stetson and Georgia Start the New Year with Some Magic
Trailing by six with under three minutes to play, reigning CFP National Championship offensive player of the game Stetson Bennett had the opportunity to once again enter his name into Georgia football lore.
With his back against the wall, Bennett delivered. Georgia moved the ball 72 yards in just under two minutes. Finally, Bennett found Adonai Mitchell for the 10-yard touchdown and a 42-41 lead after the extra point.
The Buckeyes still had an opportunity down by just one with 54 seconds to play. The drive started slowly as Ohio State worked its way up the field, but Stroud escaped for a 27-yard run to move the Buckeyes toward field goal range.
Right on the edge of field goal range, Stroud looked to move a little further downfield to set up an easier field goal, but the Bulldogs didn’t budge.
As the clock approached midnight and the game clock stopped with just eight ticks left, Ohio State sent out the field goal unit.
By request, here is the multicam view of the feed from Times Square, All-22, and ESPN, Georgia, and Ohio State radio calls, as it happened onscreen live: pic.twitter.com/k775T4VNTo
— Timothy Burke (@bubbaprog) January 1, 2023
From 50 yards and with a trip to the CFP National Championship on the line, Noah Ruggles set up for the go-ahead field goal.
The snap and hold were good, but the kick hooked left, and Georgia survived.
Georgia One Game Away from Title Defense
This year’s CFP Semifinal was a little closer for Georgia than last year’s dominating performance over the Wolverines. Nonetheless, Kirby Smart has his team back in the title game.
Bennett, while shaky at times, ended with 398 yards through the air and three touchdowns, with an added score on the ground. Arian Smith led the way in receiving for both teams with 129 yards, although Ohio State had two 100-yard receivers in Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka.
Stroud had a near-flawless game, despite the loss, completing 23 passes for 348 yards and four touchdowns.
Since the start of the CFP in 2014, no team has ever won back-to-back National Championships. Defending champions are 0-4 when attempting to win back-to-back championships, with Alabama’s loss to Georgia last year being the most recent circumstance.
The Bulldogs will take on TCU in the CFP National Championship from SoFi Stadium on January 9 at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN.