PASADENA, Calif. — After ending the first overtime Rose Bowl, one of the greatest Granddaddies of Them All, Sony Michel was swarmed by Georgia teammates as he broke down in tears.
The senior tailback had gone from possible goat to all-time hero for Georgia, sending the Bulldogs to the national championship game with a one last burst in a game full of them.
Michel raced 27 yards for a touchdown in the second overtime to give No. 3 Georgia a 54-48 victory against No. 2 Oklahoma in the College Football Playoff semifinal Monday night.
Michel, who had a fumble in the fourth quarter returned for a go-ahead Oklahoma touchdown, ran for 181 yards and three scores for the Bulldogs (13-1), but none bigger than the last one.
“I made plays. I gave up plays. My team just had faith in me,” said Michel, who did all that damage on just 11 carries and got a hug from former Bulldogs great tailback Garrison Hearst after scoring the winning TD. “That’s what this team is all about. They showed true character today.”
In the final game of his great career, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield threw for 287 yards and two touchdowns, and caught a touchdown pass that gave the Sooners a 17-point lead with 6 seconds left in the first half.
But the Heisman Trophy winner could not get the Sooners (12-2) into the end zone in the first overtime when a touchdown would have ended the game.
“It’s tough to describe right now,” Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said of the loss. “It’s a hell of a college football game. You know, an epic Rose Bowl game.”
The Bulldogs will play Alabama on Jan. 8 fin an all-Southeastern Conference national championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, about 70 miles from their campus. After Georgia made its first trip to the Rose Bowl since 1943 a heart-stopping success, the Bulldogs will play for their first national title since 1980.
“We got to get back to work. It’s not done,” Michel said. “Now we got to finish. Let’s just finish this season off right.”
The 104th Rose Bowl was also the highest-scoring, surpassing last year’s 52-49 USC victory against Penn State. There was a lot more on the line in this one, the first CFP game to go to overtime as well.
After an offside penalty on Georgia gave Oklahoma a first down on third-and-five in the second OT possession, the Sooners stalled again and Austin Seibert came out for a 27-yard field goal. Leaping through the line, Lorenzo Carter got his outstretched hand on the kick and the ball fluttered down short of the uprights.
Any score would have ended it for the Bulldogs, and on the second play Michel slipped one tackle and was home free. The Bulldogs sprinted off the sideline and toward the corner of the end zone to mob Michel. Confetti rained down. Meanwhile, Mayfield stood motionless on the sideline for several seconds, bent over with his hands on his knees and head down. Mayfield battled flu-like symptoms the week leading into the game, but he played just fine.
“I can’t believe it’s over. It’s been a wild ride,” said Mayfield with a hoarse voice before he started to cry.
Michel and his roommate and running mate Nick Chubb were awesome for Georgia. Chubb ran for 145 yards and two touchdowns, including a 2-yarder on a direct snap with 55 seconds left in regulation to tie it. The Sooners had taken a 45-38 lead when Steven Parker returned Michel’s fumble for a TD with 6:52 left in the fourth.
“I told him that he had to keep running and trying to hit the corner,” Chubb said. “We had a long game and after the fumble, we went down and he made up for it with that run to win the game.”
Both teams settled for field goals in the first overtime. First, Georgia’s Rodrigo Blankenship hit from 38 to make it 48-45.
Then it was Mayfield’s turn. A touchdown would have sent the Sooners to Atlanta, but on a third-and-2 from the 17 Georgia All-America linebacker Roquan Smith nailed Jordan Smallwood a yard short of the first down.
Seibert kicked a 33-yarder and the Bulldogs and Sooners played on, but not for much longer.
Georgia: The Bulldogs came in with the sixth-best defense in the country, but Mayfield and the Sooners sliced it up in the first half, including a nifty reverse pass to the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback that made it 31-14 with 6 seconds left in the second quarter. Oklahoma had 360 yards in the first half, the second-most the Bulldogs had allowed in a game this season.
Coach Kirby Smart said the defense “stunk it up” in the first half, but there were no dramatic changes in the second. Smith and company just played better. Oklahoma managed only 171 yards and one touchdown in the second half and OT.
Oklahoma: The Sooners’ defense has been an issue all season, but it did look for a while like it might make the decisive play. Linebacker Caleb Kelly lowered a shoulder into Michel trying to turn the corner on a sweep and the ball popped loose. Parker picked it up on the bounce, tight-roped the sideline and sprinted 46 yards for the score.
But with a chance to close out the game with 3:22 left in the fourth, Georgia freshman quarterback Jake Fromm led a game-tying drive. Fromm finished 20-for-29 for 210 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Georgia: It’s back to Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the Bulldogs, where they beat Auburn to win the SEC championship and get in the playoff a month ago.
Oklahoma: The Sooners start the post-Mayfield era next fall at home against coach Lane Kiffin’s Florida Atlantic team.