ATLANTA -- They will be talking about this one for years to come.
The 21st version of the Southeastern Conference football title game was the most memorable yet, as No. 2-ranked Alabama outlasted No. 3 Georgia 32-28 Saturday in a classic that contained five lead changes and four in the second half.
A 45-yard touchdown pass from Crimson Tide quarterback AJ McCarron to Amari Cooper with 3:15 remaining was the deciding score, but Alabama still had to survive a late Georgia threat that ended at Alabama's 5-yard line when time ran out.
"This conference will test your mettle," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "There are a lot of good teams in this conference, and we beat a really good one out there today. We kind of had that 'I would not be denied' attitude."
Alabama clinched a berth in the BCS championship game against No. 1 Notre Dame with Saturday's triumph before a deafening Georgia Dome crowd of 75,624. The official announcement will be made tonight, but the Crimson Tide (12-1) will be Miami-bound for the Jan. 7 title matchup.
Georgia (11-2) will learn its postseason fate today, with its most likely destinations being the Cotton, Chick-fil-A or Capital One bowls.
"Whoever we play next is going to have to reap the wrath of this game here," Bulldogs nose tackle John Jenkins said.
The Crimson Tide and Bulldogs combined for a surprising 60 points and 906 total yards. A significant chunk of that yardage came via Alabama's ground attack, as junior tailback Eddie Lacy gained 181 yards and freshman T.J. Yeldon added 153.
Alabama's 350 rushing yards shattered the previous SEC title-game record of 300 set by the Tide against Florida in 1999.
The Bulldogs took the only two-possession lead of the game at 21-10 when Cornelius Washington blocked a Cade Foster field-goal attempt and Alec Ogletree returned the loose ball 55 yards for a touchdown midway through the third quarter. Alabama answered by running the ball 11 times on its next 12 plays over two possessions, amassing 118 rushing yards and taking a 25-21 lead.
"We weren't panicking, but I was nervous," Alabama right guard Anthony Steen said. "I knew we had to score the next time we touched it. I'm just glad we kept running to the right side when we were clicking."
Georgia responded by zipping 75 yards on five plays, with the big gain being a 45-yard strike from Aaron Murray to Tavarres King, and took a 28-25 lead with 12:54 left on Todd Gurley's 10-yard run. Gurley provided the SEC title game with three 100-yard rushers, finishing with 122 on 23 carries.
Alabama began its winning drive with 5:24 remaining and converted a third-and-5 with a 5-yard run by Yeldon to the Georgia 45. On the next play, Cooper got past cornerback Damian Swann down the left sideline for the winning score.
"I released inside and saw him bite hard, and I just stuck him and ran straight," Cooper said. "I never saw AJ, and I stopped, but then I saw the ball and said, 'Oh shoot, I need to go get it.' Fortunately I caught up to it and scored."
Said Swann: "They had been running the ball the whole second half, and I thought they were going to a slant, but he jumped inside and then went back outside. It was a decision I made that I will have to live with."
Saturday marked just the fifth SEC title game to be decided by a touchdown or less, and it was just the second such occurrence in the last 14 years. The only games closer were Florida's 24-23 win over Alabama in 1994 and Tennessee's 30-29 win over Auburn in '97.
Neither of those games were for a berth in the national championship pairing, and neither had such a frenzied finish.
"I'm sure when I get older and have kids of my own, it might be on ESPN Classic," McCarron said, "and then I'll understand, but right now I'm just living in the moment."
A moment Georgia was having a difficult time grasping.
"This hurts, because there was a lot invested in it," Bulldogs defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. "It was two teams trading blows like a heavyweight fight. Both teams made plays, but they just made one more than we did.
"We were a couple of inches away from a national championship."
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...