Ohio State can’t hold lead in playoff semifinal loss to Georgia

ATLANTA – It was close. Oh so close. It hurt to the core, in the words of Ohio State coach Ryan Day.

Ohio State came within a single point of reaching the College Football Playoff championship game when it lost 42-41 to Georgia in a playoff semifinal in the Peach Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday night.

But in the end defending champion Georgia made enough plays at the times it needed them to reach the championship game against TCU in Sofi Stadium in Los Angeles in eight days. And OSU came up short.

No. 1 Georgia (14-0) led for less than two minutes of the game. It was in front only for 55 seconds late in the second quarter and for the final 54 seconds of the game.

OSU (11-2) was up 38-24 going into the fourth quarter but couldn’t get enough defensive stops to get the victory and scored only three points, on a 48-yard field by Noah Ruggles, in the final 15 ½ minutes of the game..

Georgia scored on a 10-yard touchdown pass from Stetson Bennett to Adonai Mitchell, then got the crucial extra-point Jack Podlesny to go up 42-41 with 54 seconds to play.

OSU drove to the Bulldogs’ 32-yard line and sent Ruggles out to attempt a 50-yard field goal with four seconds to play, but it was wide left.

“Our team played hard and came out and swung in this game. It came down to one play and it wasn’t just the last play in the game. There were a lot of plays you wish you had back as a player and as a coach,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said.

Quarterback C.J. Stroud said, “That last drive, I saw how much time we had and how many timeouts and I knew we could do it and I tried my hardest to get us down there,” Stroud said. “I think I left my heart out there on that field. We put everything on the line.

“I think at the end of the day we had the mindset of we were going to let everything hang. We were going to go out and fight as hard as we can and swing as hard as we can. I felt we did that.”

Day said, “It doesn’t mean anything if you don’t win. I think what probably hurts the most is that when you put that much work, that much energy, that much time into something and it’s right there and and you just don’t get it.

“This is a performance business. You win or lose and we lost the game. That’s what hurts to our core,” he said.

Georgia rolled up 533 yards of total offense and Ohio State had 467 yards.

Quarterback Stetson Bennett led Georgia as he connected on 23 of 34 passes for 398 yards and three touchdowns.

Stroud hit 23 of 34 passes for 348 yards and four touchdowns. Emeka Egbuka (8 catches, 112 yards, 1 touchdown) and Marvin Harrison Jr. (5 catches, 106 yards, 2 touchdowns) led OSU’s receivers. Harrison left the game after a helmet to helmet hit in the third quarter and did not return.

Ohio State led 35-24 when Harrison left the game. Starting tight end Cade Stover left the game in the first half and was taken to an Atlanta hospital for back spasms, according to an injury report by Ohio State.

Starting running back Miyan Williams, who has battled an ankle injury for several weeks and flu-like symptoms in the days leading up to the game, did not start and rushed for only 8 yards on 3 carries. The Buckeyes also were without running back TreVeyon Henderson and wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who missed most of the season. And OSU still pushed the defending national champion to the end.

Ohio State led 28-24 at halftime after two quarters in which the two teams combined for 562 yards of total offense.

Georgia had 314 yards and OSU had gained 248. The Bulldogs had a much more balanced attack, though, with 191 yards passing and 122 yards on the ground, while all but 10 of the Buckeyes’ yards came on the ground.

Ohio State had 10 plays of 10 yards or more in the first half and Georgia had nine. Stroud was 15 of 19 for 238 yards and three touchdowns in the first half.

OSU led 21-7 four minutes and a few seconds into the second quarter on 31-yard touchdown pass from Stroud to Harrison, a 3-yard touchdown run by Williams and a 16-yard touchdown pass from Stroud to Harrison, which was set up by an interception by Steele Chambers.

Georgia tied the game at 21-21, then went ahead 24-21 on a 32-yard field goal by Jack Podlesny with 1:44 left in the first half.

But OSU, which had punted on its two previous possessions and seemed to be losing momentum, needed only four plays – all of them passes – to regain the lead at 28-24 at halftime.

Stroud connected with Xavier Johnson for 6 yards, Emeka Egbuka for 19 yards, Julian Fleming for 13 yards and came back to Johnson, who made a nice spin move to finish off a 37-yard touchdown pass with 49 seconds left in the first half.

Jim Naveau has covered local and high school sports for The Lima News since 1978 and Ohio State football since 1992. His OSU coverage appears in more than 30 newspapers. Naveau, a Miami University graduate, also worked at the Greenville Advocate and the Piqua Daily Call. He has seen every boys state basketball tournament since 1977. Reach him at [email protected] or 567-242-0414.