Georgia swatted away the field goal attempt, the ball spinning to a stop at its 4-yard line. The LSU players trudged off the field, thinking the play was over.

Christopher Smith knew better. He suddenly scooped it up and took off the other way, sprinting 96 yards for a touchdown that epitomized the Bulldogs program.

They were a step ahead of LSU on Saturday.

They’ve been a step ahead of everyone for two years now. With all sorts of turmoil behind them in the rankings, Georgia headed to the College Football Playoff as the clear No. 1, dismantling the No. 11 Tigers 50-30 in the Southeastern Conference championship game Saturday.

Stetson Bennett’s threw a season-high four touchdown passes in another stellar postseason performance, while Smith’s heads-up play gave the Bulldogs an early spark.

“I’ve got good players around me. I’m not that bad at football, either,” Bennett said with a smile. “We’ve got a good team.”

Georgia (13-0, No. 1 CFP) also caught a big break when Smith deflected a pass that bounced off an LSU receiver’s helmet and wound up being picked off by the Bulldogs, setting up a score that contributed to a 35-10 lead by halftime.

LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels re-injured a sore right ankle late in the second quarter, giving way to Garrett Nussmeier in the second half.

The backup guiding the Tigers (9-4, No. 14 CFP) to three touchdowns, but it wasn’t nearly enough.

Georgia accomplished something that not even last season’s national championship squad could could do — win its first SEC title since 2017.

The Bulldogs were denied in this game a year ago by Alabama, before bouncing back to beat the Crimson Tide in the title game.

“I don’t want one kid to walk out of our program without an SEC championship ring in their careers,” coach Kirby Smart said.

“That could’ve happened. They said enough is enough and got ’em one tonight.”

Georgia heads into the playoff assured of a return trip to Atlanta for a de facto semifinal home game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, just 75 miles from its Athens campus.

LSU’s outside hopes of crashing the four-team playoff field were wiped out a week ago by a stunning loss at Texas A&M, one of several upsets that will give the selection committee plenty to think about before its announcement Sunday. AP

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