Kirby Smart, Stetson Bennett and the Georgia Bulldogs turned back their demons and turned away Alabama, defeating the reigning national champions to capture the school's first title since 1980.
Smart — who had previously been 0-4 when facing his mentor Nick Saban as a head coach — watched his top-ranked Bulldogs close the game with a 33-18 victory in Indianapolis.
Saban, who was seeking his seventh national title at Alabama, and eighth overall, was Smart's boss for nine seasons in Tuscaloosa, and most recently got the better of his pupil during the SEC Championship game. The rematch, however, went the way of Georgia, in large part thanks to senior quarterback Stetson Bennett.
A costly fourth-quarter Red Zone fumble by Bennett led to Alabama's lone touchdown, a three-yard strike from Bryce Young to Cameron Latu which put the Crimson Tide in front 18-13 with 10:14 to play. However, on the very next possession, Bennett responded with a picturesque 40-yard scoring strike to Adonai Mitchell, giving the Bulldogs the lead right back at 19-18.
Georgia's vaunted defense, exposed during the 17-point loss to Alabama on Dec. 4, was more than up to the task in the rematch, holding Alabama to just 30 rushing yards, and forcing a pair of turnovers. The second of which, an interception by Kelee Ringo, served as the nail in the coffin, as the 19-year-old freshman cornerback picked off Young and raced 79 yards for Georgia's third straight touchdown.
Young, who had designs on following wide receiver DeVonta Smith and becoming the second straight Alabama player to win both the Heisman Trophy and National Championship in the same season, was attempting to lead the Crimson Tide to a game-tying score and two-point conversion, when his throw was snatched by Ringo. On the night, the sophomore signal-caller attempted a whopping 57 throws, completing 35 for 369 yards in the loss.
Bennett, though asked to do less, was sharpest when it mattered most, following his touchdown pass to Mitchell with a 15-yard scoring toss to Brock Bowers, putting Georgia up 8 points with 3:33 to play. Bennett ends his storybook career in Athens by going 17-26 for 224 yards and earning offensive MVP honors.
The game's earliest moments lacked a certain degree of excitement as both Georgia and Alabama were largely forced to settle for field goals. The Crimson Tide led 9-6 at the half, and the game's first touchdown wasn't scored until Georgia running back Zamir White punched it in from one yard out with 1:20 remaining in the third quarter.
However, the game's final quarter offered up big plays befitting a contest of this magnitude, including both Bennett's fumble and his touchdown pass on the ensuing drive.
For Smart, the win means he finally gets the better of his mentor. For Georgia, though, it's simply a return to top dog status, 41 years in the making.