The Bulldogs led 23-20 in Monday night's College Football Playoff National Championship Presented by AT&T, and they looked as though they might be back on track to securing their first national title since 1980.
"They were out of field-goal range," Ledbetter said. "We really had a chance to go and close the thing out."
On the very next play, Tagovailoa fired a 41-yard touchdown to DeVonta Smith down the left sideline. Just like that, Alabama walked off with its fifth national championship in nine years with a 26-23 victory at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Georgia, after waiting 37 years since its most recent national championship, will have to wait at least another year. And this loss figures to hurt more than any other.
"I'm just sick for these kids," Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. "They deserved to win."
The Bulldogs dominated the Crimson Tide in the first 30 minutes, taking a 13-0 lead at the half. Then Alabama changed quarterbacks at the start of the second half, replacing the struggling Jalen Hurts for Tagovailoa, a true freshman from Hawaii.
Even after Tagovailoa led Alabama on a touchdown drive early in the third quarter, the Bulldogs answered with an 80-yard touchdown pass from Jake Fromm to Mecole Hardman to take a 20-7 lead. Then Alabama scored twice in the fourth quarter to tie the score, 20-20.
"I think [Alabama] had a lot of momentum," Smart said. "I think they had a lot of juice; I think a lot of their guys believed in [Tagovailoa]. I think our guys were resilient, even with the momentum change. We kept fighting back, made some big, key stops."
When Andy Pappanastos missed a 36-yard field goal on the final play of regulation to send the game into overtime, it almost seemed that Georgia was destined to win.
"I know this team would have never stopped believing," Bulldogs tailback Nick Chubb said. "Even when they went out to kick the field goal to win the game, we knew that something was going to happen in our favor, and they ended up missing it. And we had our chance to win the game, but we just didn't get it done. We never stopped believing."
On Alabama's winning touchdown pass, Smith ran past senior cornerback Malkom Parrish down the left sideline. Senior safety Dominick Sanders was supposed to provide Parrish help over the top, but he was badly out of position on the play. Smith was wide open when he caught Tagovailoa's pass and ran into the end zone.
"It was a heartbreaker," Georgia senior cornerback Aaron Davis said. "It was an empty feeling. We got a sack on that first play and made it second-and-really-long. We thought if we made a couple of more stops we could finish the thing."
It was a bitter end for the Bulldogs, who finished 13-2 in Smart's second season and won their first SEC championship since 2005.
"This was a great ride," Georgia senior nose tackle John Atkins said. "If I could do it all over again, I would, especially with this team. We just fell short at the end. We can't do anything about it."
Georgia loses many of the star players that led its resurgence, including senior tailbacks Chubb and Sony Michel. Its three star linebackers -- Bellamy, Lorenzo Carter and Roquan Smith -- also are departing.
"Nobody in this locker room ever wants to feel this way again," Fromm said.
With young players like Fromm, Hardman and D'Andre Swift, along with a top-ranked incoming recruiting class, Georgia's future seems bright.
"This team's not going anywhere," Smart said. "The inches are everywhere. The inches that it takes to be a champion, they're everywhere. They're in everything. They're all over the place, and we've got to get more inches."