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Alabama holds off Georgia 32-28, advances to Miami

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Alabama holds off Georgia 32-28, advances to Miami

ATLANTA (AP) Alabama got a hand on the ball, which wobbled into the arms of a Georgia receiver who wasn't supposed to catch it.

Before the Bulldogs could get off another play, the clock ran out.

The Crimson Tide is heading back to the national championship game.

By a mere 5 yards.

AJ McCarron threw a 45-yard touchdown pass to Amari Cooper with 3:15 remaining and No. 2 Alabama barely held on at the end, beating No. 3 Georgia 32-28 in a Southeastern Conference title game for the ages Saturday night.

``I'm ready to have a heart attack here,'' Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said.

As confetti fell from the Georgia Dome roof, the Bulldogs collapsed on the field, stunned they had come so close to knocking off the team that has won two of the last three national titles.

``We just ran out of time,'' Georgia coach Mark Richt moaned.

Alabama (12-1) will get a chance to make it three out of four when it faces top-ranked Notre Dame for the BCS crown on Jan. 7 in Miami.

This time, Alabama will head to the big game with a championship already in its pocket - unlike last year's squad, which didn't even make it to Atlanta, but got a do-over against SEC champion LSU in the national title game.

Even though the Tide left little doubt it was truly the best team in the country, routing the Tigers 21-0, there were plenty who thought Saban's team didn't deserve a rematch.

There will be no complaints when Alabama heads to South Florida for a dream matchup between two of college football's most storied programs. The Tide and Notre Dame have each won eight Associated Press national titles, more than any other school.

``This group has been fantastic,'' Saban said. ``They were able to accomplish something of significance, and something that last year's team didn't accomplish, which is win the SEC championship.''

What a game it was.

After an apparent game-clinching interception by Alabama was overturned on a video review, Georgia's Aaron Murray completed a 15-yard pass to Arthur Lynch, a 23-yarder to Tavarres King and a 26-yarder to Lynch, who was hauled down at the Alabama 8 as the clock continued to run.

The Bulldogs (11-2) were out of timeouts.

Instead of spiking the ball and gathering themselves, the Bulldog hurriedly snapped the ball with 9 seconds to go. Murray attempted a pass into the end zone but it was deflected at the line and ended in the arms of Chris Conley out in the right flats.

Surprised to see the ball coming his way, he instinctively dove for the catch at the 5.

Georgia couldn't get off another play.

Richt said the offense called the play it wanted at the end, a deeper route to Malcolm Mitchell, but Alabama ruined it by tipping the pass. If it had fallen incomplete instead of being caught by Conley, the Bulldogs would've had at least one more play, maybe two.

Instead, they were done.

``I told the guys I was disappointed, but I'm not disappointed in them,'' Richt said. ``They're warriors. We had a chance at the end.''

The consolation prize will likely be one of the second-tier bowls - the Capital One, Cotton or Chick-fil-A - though the Bulldogs certainly looked like a team deserving of something better.

``Do I think we're worthy of a BCS bowl?'' Richt said. ``Yes I do.''

The Bulldogs even got props from Saban.

``It would be a crying shame if Georgia doesn't get to go to a BCS bowl game,'' the Alabama coach said. ``They played a tremendous game out there. That was a great football game, by both teams. It came right down to the last play.''

In a back-and-forth second half that looked nothing like a game in the defensive-minded SEC, the Crimson Tide trailed 21-10 after Alec Ogletree returned a blocked field goal for a touchdown in the third quarter.

Alabama rallied behind a punishing run game, finishing with 350 yards on the ground, an SEC championship game record. Eddie Lacy - the game's MVP - rumbled for 181 yards on 20 carries, including two TDs. Freshman T.J. Yeldon added 153 yards on 25 carries, also scoring a TD.

After the game, Lacy hooked up with the guy he replaced in the Alabama backfield - Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram, now with the NFL's New Orleans Saints.

``He just told me congratulations and that I did a great job running and it was it was the best he's ever seen me run.'' Lacy said.

But the Tide won it through the air.

With Georgia stacking the line, McCarron fooled the Bulldogs with play action and delivered a perfectly thrown pass to Cooper, who beat Damian Swann in single coverage down the left side.

Georgia played like a champion until the clock ran out, though.

Using up their timeouts and forcing a punt, the Bulldogs got the ball back at their 15 with 1:08 remaining. Alabama broke into a celebration when a pass down the middle for Conley was deflected and Dee Milliner appeared to make a diving interception. But the replay showed the ball hit the ground, so Murray and the Georgia offense trotted back on the field for its last gasp.

And what a gasp it was.

Just not quite enough.

Todd Gurley led Georgia with 122 yards rushing, including a couple of TDs. Murray was 18 of 33 for 265 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

McCarron was 12 of 21 for 162 yards with an interception, only his third of the season.

After a defensive struggle in the first half, with Alabama kicking a field goal on the final play for a 10-7 lead, the last two quarters were nothing but run-and-gun.

The Bulldogs took the second-half kickoff and marched right down the field for the go-ahead touchdown. Gurley ran it seven times, capped by leg-churning, 3-yard drive up the middle to make it 14-10.

Alabama looked like it was about to answer, holding the ball for more than 5 1-2 minutes, before the drive stalled. Cade Foster came on for a 50-yard field-goal attempt, but his low kick was swatted down by Cornelius Washington. Ogletree scooped up the bouncing ball in stride and returned it 55 yards for a touchdown.

Suddenly, the Bulldogs led 21-10.

But the Tide wasn't about to go away that easy. Yeldon broke off a 31-yard run, Swann was called interference on a throw down the middle, and Yeldon powered in from the 10. He ran it again for the 2-point conversion, pulling Alabama to 21-18.

Georgia went three-and-out, and the ground assault resumed. Lacy barreled over right guard for 32 yards. Yeldon got it down to the 1. Lacy returned for the first snap of the fourth period, bulling over to put Alabama ahead 25-21.

The Tide's momentum lasted about 2 minutes.

Murray found King down the middle for a 45-yard completion and Gurley finished off the lightning-quick possession with a 10-yard touchdown run up the middle, putting Georgia back on top, 28-25.

But Alabama knows a thing or two about comebacks, having rebounded the last two years from regular-season losses.

Just three weeks ago, the Tide was upset at home by Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M.

Now, Bama is off to play for another title.

``It's just the never-give-up attitude,'' McCarron said. ``You've got to keep fighting through it.''

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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5 reasons the Caps beat the Lightning in Game 6

5 reasons the Caps beat the Lightning in Game 6

After losing three straight, the Capitals battled back in Game 6 on Monday. With their 3-0 win, Washington forced the Eastern Conference Final into a decisive Game 7 on Wednesday.

Here is how the Caps did it.

1. Braden Holtby matched Andrei Vasilevskiy save for save

Andrei Vasilevskiy was just as great in this game as he was in the three previous, but one of the major differences in this one was that Holtby was just as good. He may not have been tested as much (Vasilevskiy made 32 saves, Holtby 24), but he was big when the team needed.

In the second period with the scored tied at 0, Holtby made one of the most critical saves perhaps of the entire season when he denied Anthony Cirelli with the toe on a 2-on-1. When the Caps took the lead, Holtby really shut the door in the third period with 10 saves to cap off what was his fifth career playoff shutout and first shutout of the entire season.

2. T.J. Oshie’s timely goal

Over halfway into the game, it looked like it was just going to be one of those nights. Caps fans know it well by now. Washington outplays their opponent, they get chance after chance and develop a whopping advantage in shots, but they run into a hot goalie and a random play suddenly turns into a goal for the other team, game and season over.

Vasilevskiy was on his way to having perhaps his best performance of the series. Considering how he played in the three games prior to Game 6, that’s saying something. The Caps were doing everything right, but he continued to make save after save. Then on the power play in the second period, John Carlson struck the inside of the post, the horn went off and the roar of the crowd gave way to dismay as the referee waved his arms to indicate there was no goal and play continued. Just seconds later, T.J. Oshie gave the Caps the 1-0 lead.

You have to wonder if doubt was starting to creep into the back of the minds of the players when that puck struck the post as they wondered what else they had to do to beat Vasilevskiy. Luckily, that feeling didn’t last long.

3. Special teams

Braydon Coburn’s tripping penalty in the second period gave Washington its only power play of the night and its first since the second period of Game 4. They had to make it count given how well Vasilveskiy was playing and they did.

Washington now has a power play goal in each of their three wins against the Lightning and no power play goals in their three losses. So yeah, it’s significant.

Tampa Bay had two opportunities of their own, but Washington managed to kill off both power plays in the penalty kill’s best performance of the series.

4. Washington’s physical game plan

On paper, the Lightning are better than the Caps in most categories. One area in which Washington has the edge, however, is physical play and it was clear very early that they intended to use that to their advantage in Game 6. Tampa Bay was pushed around and they seemed to struggle to recover.

Ovechkin was a one-man wrecking ball out there hitting everything that moved. The energy he brought with every hit was palpable and both the team and the crowd fed on it.

Washington was credited with 39 hits on the night compared to Tampa Bay’s 19. Ovechkin had four of those as did Nicklas Backstrom while Devante Smith-Pelly contributed five and Tom Wilson and Brooks Orpik each led the team with six.

5. Fourth line dagger

Tampa Bay’s fourth line was the story of Game 5, but Washington’s fourth line sealed the deal on Monday with its third period goal.

Chandler Stephenson beat out an icing call, forcing Braydon Coburn to play the puck along the wall. Jay Beagle picked it up, fed back to Stephenson who backhanded a pass for the perfect setup for Devante Smith-Pelly.

Smith-Pelly scored seven goals in the regular season. He now has four in the playoffs.

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Soto, Harper homer in Nats' win over Padres

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Soto, Harper homer in Nats' win over Padres

WASHINGTON -- Juan Soto, the youngest player in the majors at 19, hit a three-run homer in his first career start as the Washington Nationals defeated the San Diego Padres 10-2 on Monday.

Mark Reynolds had two solo home runs for the Nationals, who snapped a three-game losing streak. Bryce Harper had a homer and an RBI double.

Soto's drive highlighted a five-run second inning for Washington. The promising outfielder, who played for three minor league teams this season, hit the first pitch from Robbie Erlin (1-3) over the Nationals bullpen in left-center field. Soto also singled.

Soto's homer traveled an estimated 442 feet at Nationals Park. He earned a standing ovation from the crowd and the teenager responded by taking a curtain call. Per Baseball-Reference.com, Soto became the first teenager to hit a home run in a major league game since Harper on Sept. 30, 2012.

Called up to Washington on Sunday, Soto became the first 19-year-old to make his major league debut since Dodgers pitcher Julio Urias in 2016. He entered that game in the eighth inning as a pinch-hitter and struck out.

Washington's starting left fielder began the season at Class A Hagerstown. He hit a combined .362 with 14 homers and 52 RBIs in his three minor league stops.

Gio Gonzalez (5-2) allowed two runs and two hits in seven innings.

San Diego's Franmil Reyes, playing in his seventh career game, also hit his first career home run.

Trea Turner hit a pair of RBI doubles for Washington. Reynolds had three hits.

Erlin surrendered six runs and seven hits over four innings in his third start of the season. San Diego had won three in a row.

Reyes connected for a two-run homer in the fourth inning, but the Padres' lineup generated little else against Gonzalez, who allowed one run over six innings in a no-decision at San Diego on May 9.

2018 MLB POWER RANKINGS AND OTHER NATS NEWS:

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