Bama wins SEC, ends Georgia’s winning streak at 29 games

AP photo by John Bazemore / Alabama running back Jam Miller (26) celebrates with receiver Emmanuel Henderson Jr. after Miller scored on an 18-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter of Saturday's SEC championship game against Georgia in Atlanta.
AP photo by John Bazemore / Alabama running back Jam Miller (26) celebrates with receiver Emmanuel Henderson Jr. after Miller scored on an 18-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter of Saturday's SEC championship game against Georgia in Atlanta.

ATLANTA — After dominating the college football world for much of the Nick Saban era, Alabama decided Saturday to turn the sport upside down.

Redshirt sophomore quarterback Jalen Milroe threw for 192 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 39 yards on a game-sealing drive to lead the No. 8 Crimson Tide to a 27-24 stunning of No. 1 Georgia before a frenzied crowd of 78,320 inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The Bulldogs had entered the Southeastern Conference championship contest on a 29-game winning streak, a record for an SEC program, but now their quest for a third straight national title resides with the College Football Playoff’s selection committee.

Alabama will have to play the waiting game as well, as both teams are 12-1 overall.

“I couldn’t be prouder of a bunch of guys on a team that has come so far from where we were in the second or third game of the season,” Saban said. “Georgia has an outstanding team, and our team wanted to prove itself all year. There were a lot of naysayers early in the year, and we wanted to show people that we could accomplish what we can do.

“There wasn’t a better stage to to do it than play the No. 1 team in the country who had won 29 games in a row.”

The CFP committee will reveal its four teams at noon Sunday on ESPN.

Alabama won its 30th SEC championship — three more than Georgia (14) and Tennessee (13) combined — with nine of those titles coming in Saban’s 17 seasons. That translates to the Crimson Tide winning a staggering 52.9% of the league crowns during his Tuscaloosa tenure that also contains six national championships.

Saturday’s upset also gave Saban his 17th consecutive win in Atlanta, a streak that encompasses SEC title games, Chick-fil-A Kickoff contests and playoff games. Alabama’s last loss in Atlanta was to Florida’s 2008 national championship team quarterbacked by junior Tim Tebow.

Georgia, meanwhile, lost for only the second time in 47 games, with each of those setbacks occurring against Saban’s Tide in the league championship game.

“There are two classes of guys in that locker room that had not lost a game,” Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart said. “You’ve got NFL players who lose every other week, and there were two classes of our kids who had not lost a game. There are times in life when you really can’t get better until you lose, because you have to find out what you can do better.

“There were some upset guys, because a lot of guys really care about this team.”

The Bulldogs closed within 27-24 on a Kendall Milton 1-yard touchdown on fourth-and-goal with 2:52 remaining in the game, but Milroe raced 30 yards on the first play of Alabama’s next possession to the Georgia 45. He then added a 9-yard run for another first down that enabled the Tide to run out the clock.

“He’s a really big challenge,” Georgia inside linebacker Smael Mondon said. “As far as defending him, there were some plays we did good on and some plays we could have done better. In that last drive, we just had to fit it better.”

After Georgia had pulled within 20-17 on a 1-yard quarterback sneak by Carson Beck with 10:16 left, Milroe led Alabama on a nine-play, 75-yard drive that ended in a 1-yard run by Roydell Williams for a 27-17 advantage. Milroe looked to be in trouble after dropping back from Georgia’s 25-yard line, but he stepped up and somehow flipped a pass to Isaiah Bond for 13 yards down to the 12.

“Singular focus is the biggest motto we have,” Milroe said of his fourth-quarter heroics. “Going into this game, it was all about doing our job.”

A fumbled exchange between Beck and receiver Dillon Bell with 2:14 remaining in the third quarter resulted in Alabama taking over at the 11-yard line of the Bulldogs. Georgia held the Tide to a Will Reichard 28-yard field goal, but it put Alabama back up by two scores at 20-10.

That would be the game’s lone turnover.

“We’ve obviously practiced that play a ton,” Beck said. “I’m not really sure what happened. I guess I’ll have to go see it on film. I flipped it, and the next thing I knew, all the guys were running and the ball was on the ground.”

Saturday marked the last SEC title game pitting East and West winners — the conference is doing away with divisions next season when Oklahoma and Texas join to form a 16-member collection — and the final league championship followed by a four-team playoff. College football next season is implementing a 12-team field.

Georgia set an impressive tone early, forcing Alabama into a three-and-out series with Jalon Walker’s third-down sack of Milroe and then marching 83 yards on eight plays to snag a 7-0 lead on Milton’s 17-yard touchdown run. Tight end Brock Bowers and receiver Ladd McConkey, who missed last weekend’s 31-23 win at Georgia Tech, had receptions of 23 and 15 yards on Georgia’s opening drive.

It would be Alabama pouncing early in the second quarter, taking its first lead at 10-7 on an 18-yard pass from Milroe to wide-open running back Jam Miller. Following Alabama’s go-ahead score, Georgia consumed 7:27 with a 13-play, 44-yard drive but came away empty when Peyton Woodring’s 50-yard field-goal attempt hit the right upright.

The Bulldogs were flagged for a false start before a Woodring 45-yard try.

In the waning moments of the half, Alabama converted a fourth-and-4 from Georgia’s 37 with Milroe rolling right and throwing to Bond for a 22-yard connection on the sideline. Milroe then found receiver Jermaine Burton over the middle in the end zone with 48 seconds to give the Tide a 17-7 lead at the break.

“We had two hellacious drives that Jalen contributed to,” Saban said, “and our receivers made great catches, too. Scoring right before the half and when they got it to 20-17, those were great drives.”

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com.

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