EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the 12th story in a series on the 15 most memorable SEC football games beat writer David Paschall has covered since joining the newspaper in 1990. The games are being presented in chronological order.
Chris Conley is among the most well-rounded players in Southeastern Conference football history.
Now five seasons into his career as an NFL receiver, having spent four years with Kansas City and one with Jacksonville, Conley was a member of Georgia's Student-Athlete Leadership Academy and was appointed by the SEC to a two-year term on the NCAA's Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. He also was quite creative, producing "Retribution," a 26-minute "Star Wars" tribute featuring himself as the villain and with cameos from Todd Gurley and Mark Richt.
On Dec. 1, 2012, Conley did what every competitor would do when spotting a ball that had been tipped high into the air — he snagged it. Yet while trying to turn to the goal line from Alabama's 5-yard line, Conley slipped to the turf with six seconds remaining, leaving the No. 3 Bulldogs helpless without any timeouts and staring at the reality of a 32-28 loss to the No. 2 Crimson Tide in the most exciting SEC football title game ever played.
"It sort of landed right there in my lap, and instinct is to grab it when I should have let it go," a solemn Conley said afterward in the Georgia Dome. "I was kind of in shock. I thought we had more time than that, and the ball ending up in my hands sort of shocked me as well. It was not a great feeling to be so close."
A 26-yard pass from Aaron Murray to Arthur Lynch with 15 seconds remaining gave Georgia first-and-goal at the 8, but Bulldogs offensive coordinator Mike Bobo elected to run a play instead of spiking the ball to stop the clock. The final attempt was abruptly batted at the line, never coming close to reaching intended target Malcolm Mitchell.
"They were kind of on the ropes," Bobo said, "and we were trying to hurry up and get a play called and throw it in the end zone, but it just didn't happen. There was some confusion in us lining up. There was a fade on either side to the end zone, and the frustrating thing is it took us too long to snap the ball."
Said Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner: "I'm glad they didn't spike it, because they let the clock run out."
Milliner thought he had ended the game with 45 seconds left by intercepting Murray, but replays revealed that Milliner had trapped the ball.
The 2012 SEC championship game pitted two 11-1 teams that produced five lead changes in a play-in contest for the BCS national title. Alabama advanced to face undefeated and top-ranked Notre Dame in Miami, but it was a mismatch from the start, as the Crimson Tide built a 28-0 halftime lead before cruising 42-14.
AJ McCarron's 45-yard touchdown pass to Amari Cooper with 3:15 remaining was the deciding score in Atlanta, though the game will forever be remembered for its waning moments.
"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."
The 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 that amassed a whopping 350 yards, with junior Eddie Lacy gaining 181 yards and freshman T.J. Yeldon adding 153.
Alabama didn't need any passing yards in its two touchdown possessions that followed Alec Ogletree's 55-yard scoring return of Cornelius Washington's block of a 49-yard Cade Foster field-goal attempt that gave the Bulldogs the largest lead of the game at 21-10 midway through the third quarter.
"We weren't panicking, but I was nervous," Tide 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."
A disappointed Georgia nose tackle John Jenkins exclaimed, "Whoever we play next is going to have to reap the wrath of this game here," and the Bulldogs defeated Nebraska 45-31 in the Capital One Bowl to complete a 12-2 season. In those same moments that followed the SEC championship, Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham was already sensing what Alabama would do to Notre Dame.
"We were a couple of inches away from a national championship," Grantham said.
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