ATLANTA — Alabama got a hand on the ball, which wobbled into the arms of a Georgia receiver who wasn’t supposed to catch it.
Before the Bulldogs could get off another play, the clock ran out.
And the Crimson Tide is heading back to the national championship game.
By a mere 5 yards.
AJ McCarron threw a 45-yard touchdown pass to Amari Cooper with 3:15 remaining, and No. 2 Alabama barely held on at the end, beating No. 3 Georgia, 32-28, in a Southeastern Conference title game for the ages Saturday.
“I’m ready to have a heart attack here,” Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said.
As confetti fell from the Georgia Dome roof, the Bulldogs collapsed on the field, stunned they had come so close to knocking off the team that has won two of the last three national titles.
“We just ran out of time,” Georgia coach Mark Richt moaned.
Alabama (12-1) will get a chance to make it three out of four when it faces top-ranked Notre Dame for the BCS crown on Jan. 7 in Miami.
This time, Alabama will head to the big game with an SEC championship already in its pocket – unlike last year’s squad, which didn’t even make it to Atlanta but got a do-over against SEC champion LSU in the national title game. The Tide won, 21-0, but many thought Saban’s team didn’t deserve a rematch.
There will be no complaints when Alabama heads to South Florida for a dream matchup between two of college football’s most storied programs. The Tide and Notre Dame have each won eight Associated Press national titles, more than any other schools.
Saturday’s game was no slouch.
After an apparent game-clinching interception by Alabama was overturned on a video review, Georgia’s Aaron Murray completed a 15-yard pass to Arthur Lynch, a 23-yarder to Tavarres King and a 26-yarder to Lynch, who was hauled down at the Alabama 8 as the clock continued to run.
The Bulldogs (11-2) were out of timeouts.
Instead of spiking the ball and gathering themselves, the Bulldog snapped the ball with 9 seconds to go. Murray attempted a pass into the corner but it was deflected at the line and ended in the arms of Chris Conley in the right flat.
Surprised to get the ball, he slipped down at the 5.
Georgia couldn’t get off another play.
Richt said the offense had the play it wanted at the end, but Alabama ruined it by tipping the pass. If it had fallen incomplete instead of going to Conley, who instinctively caught it, the Bulldogs likely would’ve had at least one more play, maybe two.
Instead, they were done.
Alabama rallied behind its run game – an SEC championship game-record 350 yards. Eddie Lacy, the game’s MVP, had 181 yards on 20 carries, including two TDs. Freshman T.J. Yeldon added 153 yards on 25 carries, also scoring a TD.