ATLANTA — When all the chips were down between the top two programs in the SEC, it was Isaiah Bond who came through in the end.
The sophomore receiver finished the game with 5 catches for 79 yards, but four of those catches were on the drive that the Crimson Tide had to have to keep top-ranked Georgia at bay and finish out a 27-24 win in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game.
The Bulldogs had scored a touchdown to cut the Alabama lead to 20-17 with 10 minutes to play, and a game that Alabama had largely controlled was all of a sudden at a tipping point. It was then that the Tide turned to the former Buford standout.
"He's been great all year," Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban said after the game. "If you're a quarterback, you want to be able to trust your guys, that they're going to run the right route at the right depth at the right time and show up at the right place. He does a great job of that."
Alabama running back Roydell Williams would cash in the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run to put Alabama up 27-17.
"I couldn't be prouder of a bunch of guys on a team that has come so far from where we were second, third game of the season," Saban said. "I think this is a great example for a lot of people who want to be successful in terms of the perseverance that these guys showed, the character they had to overcome adversity, the resiliency that they played with."
Georgia dominated the opening minutes of the game, stopping Alabama three-and-out on the game’s opening possession and then driving 83 yards in 8 plays to take a 7-0 lead. They would hold that lead for the rest of the quarter.
However, the second quarter belonged to Alabama. The Crimson Tide put together three consecutive scoring drive, and more notably, stymied a Georgia offense that had averaged over 38 points per game on the season. The Bulldogs went three-and-out themselves on back-to-back possessions, and their lone successful drive of the second quarter ended in a missed 50-yard-field goal try by freshman Peyton Woodring.
That missed field goal led to an Alabama touchdown drive that was highlighted by a key fourth-down reception by Bond. Jalen Milroe would cap the drive with a 16-yard touchdown pass to former Bulldog Jermaine Burton to put Alabama up 17-7.
"When you give a good team those things, they're going to be hard to beat," Georgia Head Coach Kirby Smart said after the game. "But, man, am I proud of our fight and resiliency...congratulate Alabama on a great game."
The third quarter was largely a stalemate. Georgia got a field goal from Woodring to make it 17-10. However, their next drive ended in disaster when quarterback Carson Beck and receiver Dillon Bell botched a handoff in the backfield to give Alabama the ball on the Georgia 11.
The Crimson Tide would not fully capitalize, however, as they went three-and-out and settled for another Will Reichard field goal to go up 20-10.
Georgia finally put together a touchdown drive early in the fourth quarter after a great punt return by Anthony Evans gave them the ball on the Alabama 35. It was then that Jalen Milroe and Isaiah Bond went to work.
Georgia would respond one more time with a 1-yard touchdown run from Kendall Milton, but Alabama would pick up two first downs to run out the remaining clock and seal the 27-24 win. Milton finished as the leading rusher for Georgia with 42 yards on the ground.
For Crimson Tide Head Coach Nick Saban, it was his ninth SEC Championship as the head coach at Alabama and 11th overall (he won two as the head coach of LSU in 2001 and 2003).
Alabama will now await their fate at the hands of the College Football Playoff Committee. The Crimson Tide entered the day ranked #8. The win over the top-ranked Bulldogs is impressive, but the likes of undefeated Michigan, Washington and Florida State, as well as a one-loss Big 12 champion Texas that defeated Alabama earlier in the year stand in their way.
Both Michigan and Florida State play their respective conference championship games Saturday night.
"The message that I would send is, we won the SEC. We beat the No. 1 team in the country, which everybody thought on the committee was the No. 1 team in the country. They won 29 straight games," Saban said. "If we needed to do something to pass the eye test, I guess that probably contributed to it significantly. If you really want the four best teams to compete, the four most deserving teams that have progressed throughout the season. We're not the same team we were when we played Texas. We're not the same team when we played South Florida."
The Georgia loss was their first since falling to Alabama in the 2021 SEC Championship Game. It snaps a 29-game winning streak, the longest in SEC history.
If the path to the playoff looks tough for Alabama, it’s likely even harder now for the Bulldogs, who have appeared in the last two playoffs.
"Bill Hancock said it's not the most deserving, he said, simply it's the best four teams. So you're going to tell me somebody sitting in that committee room and doesn't think that that Georgia team is not one of the best four teams, I don't know if they're in the right profession because it's a really good football team," Smart said.
Jalen Milroe finished as Championship Game MVP. The Redshirt Sophomore finished the game with 192 yards passing and two touchdowns along with 29 yards rushing.