On a historic night in Atlanta, in the first SEC Championship Game played in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and with stakes that couldn’t get higher, “It Just Means More” was on full display.
In a rematch of their Nov. 11 contest in which Auburn totally dominated Georgia, the Dawgs flipped the script and were an entirely different team, avenging that brutal November defeat and capturing their first conference title since 2005.
More importantly, Georgia punched its ticket to the College Football Playoff.
Apparently, it just meant more to Georgia this time around, and now it’s the SEC champion with a national title in reach.
The first half saw Georgia fighting against two teams — Auburn and the game officials. The officials made a handful of highly questionable calls against the Bulldogs, including overturning a second quarter touchdown pass on a phantom pass interference call, and negating a Georgia interception on account of a facemask penalty.
The Bulldogs somehow managed to enter the half ahead, with a score of Georgia 10-The Refs & Auburn 7.
The officials continued to lay it on Georgia in the second half but, midway through the third quarter, the Dawgs began to lay it on Auburn.
Georgia blocked a seemingly routine Auburn field goal that would’ve tied the game, then went up 13-7 on a Rodrigo Blankenship field goal near the end of the third quarter.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, star Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson coughed up the ball, game MVP Roquan Smith pounced on it and, four plays later, Georgia wide receiver Terry Godwin hauled in a short touchdown pass from Jake Fromm.
Godwin also made a leaping catch for the two-point conversion, putting Georgia on top 21-7 with 13 minutes remaining in the final period.
After forcing an Auburn three-and-out, Georgia freshman running back D’Andre Swift scored on a 64-yard scamper, putting Georgia up 28-7 with ten minutes left and the outcome all but sealed.
It just meant more for Georgia.
Amidst the pomp, circumstance and pageantry surrounding the game, it meant more to the loyal fans, as well, who so desperately wanted victory and all the spoils associated with it.
Before kickoff, I spoke with several fans outside the stadium and posed the following question: “With so much at stake, what would you give up for your team to win?”
Oddly enough, Alabama featured prominently in some fans’ responses even though Nick Saban was at home watching the game on his couch. (Who am I kidding, you know he was working, and he probably doesn’t even own a couch.)
Anyway, an Auburn fan from Gainesville said, “I want Alabama to make the Playoff so we beat them again, this time for the national title. Then we shut down the football program ‘cause it won’t ever get better than that.”
A Georgia fan from Buckhead said, “I’d be more upset if Alabama makes the Playoff than if Georgia loses the game.”
A Georgia fan residing in Auburn, of all places, said, “I’d give up the family dog for a Georgia win. No one takes her out except me, anyway.”
When pressed further, he added that he’d also give up vodka.
Finally, an Auburn fan from Atlanta said, “I’d give up golf until March. Wait, scratch that. I’d give up my kids until March, for sure.”
Good news for that guy is, he won’t have to give up the kids. But his wife will surely make him give up golf if she finds out he said that.
Jokes aside, it was indeed a special night for the SEC, an event befitting of the crown jewel of conference championship games. The atmosphere was electric inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium, with fans young and old of the 76,534 in attendance constantly displayed on the massive “halo” board at the top of the venue.
Congratulations to the Georgia Bulldogs and best of luck in the College Football Playoff. You represent the finest football conference in the land. Do us proud and bring home another national title for the SEC, and your first since 1980.
Because to us, it just means more.
Ben Prevost writes SEC Banter for The Times during college football season. He can be reached at SECBanter@hotmail.com