ATLANTA – It was close. It was a matter of seconds. Three to be precise.
The eighth-placed University of Cincinnati soccer team scored three seconds after the biggest win in program history at the Peach Bowl on Friday.
Instead, Georgia kicker Jack Podlesny set a Peach Bowl record by scoring a 53-yard field goal three seconds before the end of the game, giving the Bulldogs No. 9 (College Football Playoff Ranking) a 22-21 lead over the Bearcats No. 9 provided.
The game ended when Desmond Ridder, American Athletic Conference attacking player of the year, was sacked in the end zone for security reasons, resulting in a final score of 24-21.
Throughout 2020, Cincinnati (9-1) showed they were the best team of the group of five in college football. His defense was among the best in the FBS, and Ridder was one of the most prolific quarterbacks in the nation. But to the masses, the Bearcats were still just a group of five.
Power Five Georgia (8-2), who is three years away from participating in a national championship at the same stadium (Mercedes-Benz Stadium) as the Peach Bowl on Friday, is one of the “blue bloods” according to Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell “Programs.
While Fickell’s Bearcats didn’t deserve enough respect from the College Football Playoffs Selection Committee to earn a spot in the four-team playoffs, they did deserve the respect of the Southeastern Conference Bulldogs.
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“Let me start by saying that the Cincinnati team had an absolutely incredible effort and tenacity,” said Georgia coach Kirby Smart. “The way they played us defensively, I have a lot of respect for Luke Fickell and his team. The quarterback they have is a talented man, really good football team, lots of seniors on that team.”
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Two of those seniors, first-team All-AAC with Gerrid Doaks (ankle) and first-team All-AAC and Associated Press All-American Safety James Wiggins (calf), failed to keep up on Friday. Their absence was felt, but the Bearcats still took the lead 21-10 in the fourth quarter.
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Friday’s Peach Bowl was Georgia’s fourth straight appearance in the New Year’s Six Bowl. The Bulldogs had a total of 25 (15-10). Friday was only the third for Cincinnati.
The Bearcats fell 0-3 in the six bowl games of the new year. They lost in 2008 and 2009 on consecutive trips to the Orange Bowl (Virginia Tech) and the Sugar Bowl (Florida). The Bearcats also fell to 1-2 of all time in bowl games against SEC teams.
Despite the disparity in major stage performances between the two programs, Cincinnati brought Georgia to victory on Friday. The Bearcats kept the Bulldogs in third place at just 45 rushing yards and a 1-of-11 conversion rate.
“My hat is away from Cincinnati,” said Smart. “They did a really good job of controlling our running game defensively and keeping us off balance offensively enough with their quarterback running game that we knew was a good athlete and a good runner. He probably got him not given enough credit. “
Before the game, Ridder, who has already graduated, said it was “too early” to discuss what he would do after the season. His options are to return next season to do what this Cincinnati team couldn’t or to sign up for the 2021 NFL draft.
Despite a career-best season for Ridder, a perfect regular season for the Bearcats, and another high-profile recruiting class for Fickell, the UC group’s obstacle will remain in the way until it can make the leap to one of the Powers Five Conferences.
“We don’t use that word, that P (Power Five), whatever that is,” said Fickell. “They (his players) don’t know the difference. They know what the SEC is. It’s a really, really good conference with really, really good teams and great players. But we don’t see anyone else. Obviously there are conferences that are historical and great. Georgia, it doesn’t matter what conference you were at. It doesn’t matter what P was before or after your name. This is a great football team and we loved the challenge. “