Granddaddy still rocks.
On a cool Pasadena night, in a Rose Bowl that wasn’t supposed to feel like a Rose Bowl, Granddaddy celebrated his 104th birthday Monday by stamping his feet and howling to the sky.
In the final chilling ticks, that sky was filled with a long arm of Georgia’s Lorenzo Carter swatting away a field goal attempt.
Moments later it was a sky bursting with raised fists as Georgia’s Sony Michel rumbled across a deep green stretch of the Arroyo Seco for a touchdown.
It was then a sky filled with fireworks and red-and-white confetti that fell on the shocked and awed Bulldogs upon their completion of a 54-48 double overtime comeback victory over Oklahoma.
“A hell of a college football game,” said Lincoln Riley, and he was the coach of the losers.
It was a College Football Playoff semifinal game that will send Georgia to the national title game next week against Alabama in Atlanta, but it still came up roses.
It wasn’t Big 10 versus Pac-12, but it was giant versus giant that delivered in the rosiest of traditions.
It was the first overtime game in Rose Bowl history. It was the first overtime game in CFP history. It contained a 17-point comeback against a team led by the Heisman Trophy winner.
It was a Rose Bowl that was literally painted red, the color of both teams, a stadium solid with it. It was a four-hour duel featuring booming “O-U” chants from one side of the stadium, drawling “U-G-A” chants from the other side, and twinkling stars everywhere when Georgia fans continued their tradition of beginning the fourth quarter by turning on their smartphone flashlights.
The Granddaddy of them all is still the greatest of them all.
“You don’t even know what’s going on, you can’t even believe you just won the Rose Bowl and are headed for a national championship,” said Georgia tight end Isaac Nauta with a glazed smile. “I watched this game so many times growing up, to play and win in double overtime, man, that’s a dream.”
For others, a nightmare.
In the middle of the giddy Bulldogs locker room afterward, there was a giant empty rose bush, its treasures plucked by players carrying flowers to the team bus. Down the hall, in the middle of Sooners’ locker room, there were only scattered duffle bags, large bits of torn tape and the mournful looks of a team that knows it blew it.
“I can’t describe the feeling,’’ said Oklahoma kicker Austin Seibert. “It’s just like, silent.”
The Sooners, behind the brilliance of Heisman winner Baker Mayfield, made most of the noise in the early going by racing to a 31-14 lead with six seconds remaining in the first half. Considering only two teams had come back from double-digit halftime deficits in Rose Bowl history, it felt over.
Except, ah, um, it wasn’t exactly halftime. In those final six seconds, the Sooners’ Seibert was foolishly ordered to attempt a squib kick to prevent a last-second long Georgia return. The Bulldogs’ Tae Crowder picked off the kick near midfield.
One pass later, Rodrigo Blankenship connected on a 55-yard field goal as the first half expired to inch the Bulldogs closer while changing momentum.
“It was a good call,” said the Sooners’ Riley. “He just didn’t hit it well and it ended up going right to their guy, which that’s the one thing you can’t do and we did.”
No, it was a terrible call, one that will go down as one of the worst in CFP history, and Georgia was thrilled to see it.
“That was huge,” said Nauta. “We were able to steal three points right at the half. That ended up being a huge play in the game.”
Georgia capitalized on that momentum with Nick Chubb’s 50-yard touchdown run a couple of minutes into the second half, Georgia’s defense held Oklahoma to 29 yards in the third quarter, and the game shifted.
“You could just feel it in the crowd, feel it on the sideline,’’ said Nauta. “Everything changed.’’
After allowing 24 consecutive Georgia points, it seemed like the Sooners regained their footing with consecutive touchdowns on Mayfield’s second touchdown pass and a scoop-and-score fumble recovery midway through the fourth quarter by Steven Parker.
Oklahoma led by a touchdown with less than four minutes remaining and they needed just one stop to hang on.
“It was so close, that’s the only way to say it,’’ said Oklahoma tight end Mark Andrews. “Man, we were so close.’’
But they never got that stop. Georgia drove downfield and scored on a two-yard run by Chubb with 55 seconds remaining to send the game into extra periods that the Bulldogs were confident they could survive. After spreading the ball around early, they had settled into a bruising running attack that accounted for 317 yards and left the Sooners exhausted and ultimately beaten.
“We wanted to run them around a little bit in the first half, then let Sony and Nick go at them the rest of the way and that’s what happened,” Nauta said.
The Sooners, meanwhile, failed to take advantage of their best asset in the overtimes, throwing the ball into the end zone only once in the two periods, essentially taking the game out off the hands of Mayfield, their emotional leader who earlier even caught a touchdown pass.
“I can’t believe it’s over,” said Mayfield, a senior who will be among the top quarterbacks taken in next spring’s NFL draft. “It’s been a wild ride.”
That ride ended for the Sooners in the second overtime when Carter seemingly flew out of nowhere to block Seibert’s field goal attempt, followed by Michel’s winning touchdown run.
Said Seibert: “I thought it was going right down the middle, and a hand just hit it.”
Said Michel: “We just had to keep pounding. All 11 guys on offense just kept grinding.”
When it was over, those grinding Bulldogs were dancing around the Seco while those stunned Sooners were frozen in place, sitting or crouching or, in the case of Parker, kneeling for a long time in the end zone as the winners converged around him.
“They made one more play than we did,” said Parker. “One more play.”
One play, one hand in the air, one run through the night, it’s been that way for 104 years here, Granddaddy will tell you, two teams fight, one team survives, another team crumbles, and the winner is always the Rose Bowl.