Fans' hopes dashed in UGA's loss to LSU in SEC Championship game

Fans' hopes dashed in UGA's loss to LSU in SEC Championship game

Georgia's playoff hopes were crushed Saturday in a brutal defeat against LSU in the SEC Championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Georgia lost the game 37-10.

"I'm pretty bummed," said Carrie McKeever, a 2002 UGA grad who flew into Atlanta from Arizona for the game.

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"LSU was just a better team this year. I hate to say it, but it's true."

Even before halftime, it wasn't looking good for Georgia. Georgia was down 17-3, and the crowd, dominated by Georgia fans, generally was quiet.

One of the loud moments came in the form of heavy sighs when LSU intercepted the ball with less than two minutes left in first half.

While the deficit was not insurmountable, it felt like it was for many fans early in the game.

"I don't see how they can move the ball up and down the field when they haven't been doing that all game," Randy Matheny of Atlanta said at halftime.

The game played out as many predicted - LSU's explosive offense up against (and just too much) for Georgia's defense.

Even before the third quarter, Matheny seemed to be prepared for defeat.

"If we lose the game, the sun will still come out tomorrow."

And LSU kept scoring. By the end of the third quarter, Georgia was down 34-3.

A steady stream of Georgia fans headed for the exits early in the fourth quarter.

McKeever and her friend, Jane Ivy (who flew in to Atlanta from Colorado for the game) decided to call it a game with about seven minutes left on the clock. The two friends, and die-hard UGA fans, wore handmade matching UGA cheerleader outfits. They often wear them to games, and even when watching games at home.

"We would have loved to see a different outcome," McKeever said.

Earlier in the day, fans were feeling optimistic. Little did they know the game would eventually be hard to watch.

Chris Cochran and his red school bus known as the "Bird Dog" rolled into a prime tailgating spot near Mercedes-Benz Stadium early Saturday morning, right at 6:45.

The small former school bus, which Cochran bought off eBay for $750 more than 15 years ago and then upgraded with a new engine and fresh coat of cherry red paint, is reserved for big games. With UGA playing in the SEC Championship game, Saturday was a no-brainer for the bus — and an all-out tailgate complete with rows of tri-tip steak on a pellet smoker, endless appetizer platters, and homemade brownies with red M&Ms.

"This is certainly a special occasion," said Cochran of Powder Springs, as he flipped rows meat on the smoker.

Just outside the stadium in the Home Depot Backyard area, an abundance of red-and-black tailgates filled the space with only a few specks of purple and gold. It was in line with the fans inside, a sea of red pom poms. Almost 70% of the crowd at Mercedes-Benz Stadium were Georgia fans, according to projections by a secondary-ticket marketplace. Vivid Seats' "fan forecast" model – "using an algorithm that explores our proprietary data," according to the company — estimated the crowd would favor Georgia over LSU by a 69% to 31% breakdown.

Lougene Williams III, a third-generation UGA grad (and whose daughter recently received an acceptance notice) and life-long fan, relished the moment Saturday afternoon. He was smoking a cigar - just like he does before every UGA football game. It's the only time he smokes a cigar. He said he was at the surprise loss to South Carolina in October. He has been impressed with how the team rebounded and recovered from the loss.

"I had faith in this team, and the coaching staff, and they rallied together," he said. "I am proud of this team: win or lose."