Saturday, January 22, 2022

2022 National Championship: Alabama lucks out, grabs nonchalant fumble recovery by a hair

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No. 1 Alabama scored its first touchdown of the 2022 College Football Playoff National Championship Game against No. 3 Georgia on the heels of one of the most controversial officiating calls of the entire season season. 

The Bulldogs had the ball at their own 28-yard line facing third-and-5 midway through the fourth quarter when quarterback Stetson Bennett stepped back to pass. However, he was almost immediately met up the middle by Alabama linebacker Christian Harris, who caught Bennett heading to the sideline. When Bennett tried to throw the ball away from within his own 10-yard line, the ball flew up into the air and bounced towards the sideline. 

That’s when Crimson Tide defensive back Brian Branch — a Georgia native — fielded the ball nonchalantly as he ran out of bounds, believing the ball would be ruled incomplete and intentional grounding would be called. 

The ACC officiating crew conferred and ultimately ruled the play a fumble, with Branch being credited with the recovery. Replays showed that the ball left Bennett’s hand going backwards, which resulted in the fumble. When Branch fielded the ball, his foot was barely inbounds and there was no effort on his part to stay inbounds as he thought the ball was dead. 

Branch’s recovery gave Alabama the ball at the UGA 16-yard line in a game-changing — and perhaps national championship-swinging — play. Three plays later, Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young found tight end Cameron Latu for the Crimson Tide’s first touchdown of the game to give Alabama an 18-13 lead in the fourth quarter. 

Georgia has not beaten Alabama since Nick Saban’s first season in 2017 and Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart is 0-4 against his former boss. If Georgia’s championship drought extends another year, the fumble will unquestionably live in infamy for Georgia fans. 

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