PASADENA, Calif. -- Finally, a College Football Playoff semifinal game worthy of the stage.
After three years of mostly lopsided semifinal affairs, No. 3 Georgia outlasted No. 2 Oklahoma 54-48 in double overtime in a game that stands as not only the most exciting semifinal since the playoff began but also the first overtime game in the 104th playing of the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual.
Once Georgia running back Sony Michel got around the left edge, it was over. He burst free on a direct snap -- a play the Bulldogs call "Suzy" -- and galloped 27 yards for the winning score in the second overtime period. The run capped a game that featured dominant stretches by both teams and the largest comeback (17 points) in Rose Bowl history.
When Michel broke free and didn't see anyone in the secondary, he knew it was over and a sense of relief overtook him.
"We finally get a chance to play for something big," he said.
There were several moments throughout the game where it didn’t appear the Bulldogs would get that chance, most notably when Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, standing all alone, caught a touchdown pass with six seconds left in the first half. There was a sense inside the Rose Bowl that the Sooners had just punched their ticket to Atlanta.
The score put Oklahoma up 31-14, and Georgia, which allowed 30-plus points in a game only once all season (in its only loss), showed no signs that it would be able to slow down the country's top-ranked offense led by the Heisman Trophy winner.
But all week, players and coaches from both teams stressed their belief that the game's outcome wouldn't be determined until late, and neither Georgia coach Kirby Smart nor Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley wavered on that thought, despite Oklahoma's 31-17 halftime lead.
"Poor performance on our part as coaches. We didn't have these guys ready to play," Smart said at the end of the second quarter. "The good news is that we can make some adjustments. Our offense is keeping us in the game. We just have to tackle better and stop the run and make them one-dimensional."
Added Riley: "It's going to be a four-quarter game. We knew that coming in. That's what we expected."
What Riley didn't expect was for his offense to be rendered ineffective for the majority of the second half. The Sooners punted or turned the ball over on their first five possessions of the second half and saw their onetime 17-point lead turn into a 38-31 deficit as Michel and Nick Chubb ran wild.
Oklahoma managed to retake the lead 45-38, but a late Georgia touchdown sent the game to overtime, and the Bulldogs finished off their biggest win in decades to move to one win away from their first national title in 37 years.
"We're sick of hearing [about] the glory days in the '80s with the Dawgs," Georgia tight end Jeb Blazevich said. "We're ready to make our own mark, try to leave our own legacy."
Smart, who was on Alabama coach Nick Saban’s staff for four national championships, returned to his alma mater prior to the 2016 season and now has a chance to become the seventh coach in the poll era to win a national title in his first two seasons at a school.
Between a monthlong layoff following the conference championship games and Mayfield’s public battle with flu-like symptoms this week, there was reason to wonder how quickly -- or even if -- the Sooners would be able to get into a rhythm against a Georgia defense that ranked fourth nationally. Mayfield, however, made a mockery of that possible concern on Oklahoma’s first drive, when he easily marched the Sooners 80 yards for a touchdown on just six plays.
The next drive, following a Georgia touchdown, was executed just as flawlessly, and after two drives, the Sooners had more points (14) than the Bulldogs allowed on average during the season (13.2). Oklahoma’s 31 first-half points were the most in the first half of a CFP semifinal, and its 360 first-half yards were the most allowed by Georgia in at least 14 years.
Oklahoma finished with 531 yards of total offense, which, despite the result, left Smart disappointed with the process.
"I'm really disappointed and upset," he said. "I didn't think we played to the level that we're capable of. I do think that the players fought, and they are a good offensive football team, but, man, we stunk it up and played really bad."
The Bulldogs countered with 527 yards of their own, their third most in a game this season, as Michel (181 yards) and Chubb (145) combined for 326 yards on the ground. True freshman quarterback Jake Fromm connected on 20 of 29 passes for 210 yards and a pair of scores and will look to become just the second true freshman quarterback in FBS history to lead a team to a national title.
Georgia will play Alabama at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Jan. 8.