It was poetic, it was heartbreaking and it was triumphant.
The 2018 SEC Championship Game was about as thrilling as you could’ve asked for it to be. The top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide were tested like they hadn’t been before this season. The Georgia Bulldogs came to play and in the late goings, held a two-touchdown lead with the College Football Playoff on their minds. But in the end, thanks to the play of Jalen Hurts, the Tide rolled ahead of the Dawgs to remain unbeaten, with a 35-28 defeat of Georgia.
Georgia was in control at the 12:29 mark when Jake Fromm found Riley Ridley on a 23-yard dart. That score put them up 28-14 and ‘Bama looked to be in serious trouble. Later on that quarter, Tua Tagovailoa found Jaylen Waddle downfield and connected on a 51-yard catch-and-run for six.
As if we needed more drama, in the 4th quarter, Tua had to leave the game after suffering a right ankle injury. It was a non-contact injury after coming off of a throw, and Tua went down in a heap. He was eventually brought to the tent and Hurts, who of course had been replaced by Tua in that same building against that same team 11 months ago, had his chance to rescue the Crimson Tide.
Rescue he did. At the 5:19 mark, Hurts found Biletnikoff Award finalist Jerry Jeudy on a 10-yard touchdown pass to knot the game at 28 points apiece. So Georgia, now tasked with trying to win the game, eventually stalled out on midfield.
A befuddling moment would proceed. On 4th & 11, the Dawgs called a fake punt that... well, it went absolutely nowhere. In no man’s land, Georgia merely just had to punt the ball away. If ‘Bama got the ball and went down the field to score with 3 minutes and change to go, you tip your cap to them. But that’s all they had to do. And it would be one thing if it was 4th & medium or 4th & ≤ 5. But it was 4th & 11, and for some reason, they felt it suitable to go for a fake.
As you might expect, they paid dearly for it. It took just two minutes for Alabama to find the end zone again. And who else but Jalen Hurts would find his way in to score. Hurts took off and run on a 15-yard scamper to rescue the Tide from an uncertain fate and put them ahead 35-28.
It was a monumental moment for a kid who had taken being replaced in stride every step of the way. The turnabout, the irony of Hurts replacing Tua in the same building where Tua replaced Hurts and led them to a National Championship was simply poetic. It is exactly why we all love sports.
You may love the Tide, you may hate the Tide. But it is so very hard to not feel good for Jalen Hurts right now. Hurts has become as much a legendary figure in Tide program history as Bear Bryant, Joe Namath, Nick Saban and all the rest of them. He deserves every single shred of praise that will be thrown his way now.
Georgia’s final attempt at tying the game would eventually go up in smoke. And so too were their Playoff chances. There will be lots of stumping for them and whatnot. And yes, this is an all-SEC site. But it is hard to reconcile with any two-loss team making the Playoff, especially when the case now mainly relies on, “Well, they played Alabama close, and who else can say they did that?”
It’s also hard to reconcile with the fake punt call. Given the context, the situation, and everything that was on the line, it is one of the worst calls in history. If you were going to go for it, you might as well have just gone for it and spread them out wide. Why fake punt it? Why do that on 4th & long? It’s a mystery, but it’s one that will certainly be burned in the minds of every Georgia fan just like 2nd & 26 was. And... okay, Georgia sports fans. I will go easy on you.
The Tide now “await their fate,” but we’ll likely see them again in the CFB Playoff Semifinal, probably against Kyler Murray and the Oklahoma Sooners in the Orange Bowl. ‘Bama will still be #1 (unless for some reason the Clemson Tigers overtake them). Georgia, meanwhile, will likely be down in NOLA playing in the Sugar Bowl.