ATLANTA -- No. 1 Georgia stared defeat in the face for much of the 2022 Peach Bowl before rallying late for a stunning 42-41 win over No. 4 Ohio State in the College Football Playoff semifinal. The victory sends the defending champion Bulldogs to the CFP National Championship where they will face No. 3 TCU on Monday, Jan. 9 in Inglewood, California.
Ohio State kicker Noah Ruggles missed a 50-yard field goal attempt with 3 seconds left to seal the outcome after the Buckeyes drove into position for a potential game-winning attempt in the final minute following a heroic go-ahead drive from Georgia.
The Buckeyes led 38-24 early in the fourth quarter and had a chance to retake a two-possession lead with under 4 minutes remaining when the Bulldogs defense came up with a huge stand that forced Ohio State settle for a field goal that made it 41-35 with 2:43 left.
From there, Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett IV led a drive for the ages to keep the Dawgs unbeaten. Bennett hit Adonai Mitchell for a 10-yard touchdown with 54 seconds remaining to give Georgia its first lead since the second quarter.
Ohio State had two timeouts remaining and enough to time get into field goal range. It did exactly that despite navigating the fourth quarter without leading wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr., who exited late in the third quarter following a big hit in the end zone.
The Buckeyes scored more against the Dawgs than any other team this season but ultimately came up just short in a gutsy bid for redemption following an embarrassing loss to Michigan to close the regular season.
'The Mailman' delivers
Stroud outplayed Bennett for much of the night, and was absolutely spectacular for the Buckeyes both with his arm and legs. But when it mattered most, Bennett came up with another storybook moment for his fairytale career. The former walk-on, who famously took a detour through junior college before returning for a second stint with the Bulldogs, delivered the largest fourth-quarter comeback in CFP history.
The Bulldogs outscored Ohio State 18-3 in the final 15 minutes as Bennett completed 10 of 12 passes in the frame. He found Arian Smith wide open for a 76-yard touchdown to make it 38-35 midway through the quarter, and then completed 5 of 5 passes on the go-ahead drive that concluded with his strike to Mitchell. Bennett finished 23 of 34 for 398 yards with three touchdowns, an interception and a rushing touchdown while earning the game's MVP honors.
Huge stands when it mattered most
Georgia entered with the nation's No. 2 scoring defense, allowing just 12.8 points per game -- yet the Buckeyes scored 28 in the first half alone. When the chips were down, however, Georgia came up with some key stops. Oddly enough, a timeout from Georgia coach Kirby Smart with 8:58 remaining may have helped save the game for the Dawgs.
Facing a fourth-and-1 at their own 34-yard line, the Buckeyes lined up to punt before executing a successful fake. However, as the play unfolded, it became clear that Smart had called a timeout just before the snap. The Georgia staff had sniffed out the fake just in time, and the Buckeyes indeed opted to punt after the timeout.
Bennett's 76-yard strike to Smith ensued on the first play of UGA's next drive. On Ohio State's next possession, the Buckeyes faced a second-and-5 at the Georgia 18-yard line and were moving the football well with a chance to take a 45-35 lead. The Bulldogs dialed up the pressure and sacked Stroud for a loss of 12. Ohio State wound up settling for a field goal, which left the door open for Bennett and the Georgia offense.
Key injuries for both teams
Ohio State tight end Cade Stover left the game and was taken to a local hospital due to back spasms after tallying one catch for 7 yards. The senior entered with 35 receptions for 399 yards and five touchdowns. Late in the third quarter, Harrison Jr. took a big hit in the back of the end zone and needed medical attention on the field. He did not return after collecting five catches for 106 yards and two touchdowns. His absence hindered the Buckeyes as Stroud tried to position his team for a game-winning score in the final minute.
Though Georgia got Mitchell back for the game after he missed much of the season due to injury, the Bulldogs quickly lost another top target when Darnell Washington exited in the first half and did not return. The hulking junior tight end made one catch for 9 yards before his departure. His status will loom large for the College Playoff National Championship, as will the status of wide receiver Ladd McConkey, who played while clearly hobbled with a knee injury.