ATLANTA — Nick Saban has his fifth national championship at Alabama. And it came in overtime.
Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa hit DeVonta Smith for a 41-yard touchdown pass in the first overtime to complete a crazy second-half comeback to win the College Football Playoff 26-23 over Georgia.
Much like he did two years ago with an onside kick in the second half against Clemson in the National Championship Game, Saban made an aggressive decision in the final half Monday night. He benched quarterback Jalen Hurts after a porous first half and gave the offensive reins to freshman Tagovailoa.
The decision worked out. Tagovailoa threw his second touchdown of the evening with 3:49 left in the game when he bought time and found Calvin Ridley in the end zone for a seven-yard score. The throw came on a fourth-and-4 and tied the game at 20-20.
After forcing a Georgia punt, Alabama drove down the field to set up a potential game-winning field goal by Andy Pappanastos as time expired. But Pappanastos missed his second field goal of the game badly to the left, sending it to overtime.
Georgia took a 13-0 lead into halftime thanks to a great drive to end the half. After starting the scoring with two field goals, wide receiver Mecole Hardman scored a rushing touchdown with seven seconds left to cap a nine-play drive.
The good vibes continued for Georgia fans shortly after halftime, even after Tagovailoa threw a touchdown pass on the Tide’s second possession of the game. After Alabama cut the Georgia lead to 13-7, Georgia QB Jake Fromm found Hardman for an 80-yard touchdown to make it 20-7.
But the game turned two possessions later. Tagovailoa was picked off and Georgia had a chance to go up three scores and salt the game away. It didn’t happen. Fromm was intercepted by Alabama defensive lineman Raekwon Davis. The interception only turned into a field goal, but the comeback was on from there.
Two years ago, Alabama tied Clemson 24-24 in the fourth quarter and called for an onside kick with just over 10 minutes to go in the game. That aggressive decision worked out crazily well too, as the Tide took the lead two plays later and held on for a 45-40 win.
That was Saban’s fourth championship at Alabama and his fifth overall. With six overall (he won one at LSU), Saban ties Alabama legend Bear Bryant for the most national championships in college football history.
Hurts entered Monday’s game 25-2 in his career as Alabama’s starter and officially moves to 26-2 with the win. But he struggled mightily in the first half, completing three of eight passes for 21 yards. After Tagovailoa entered, Alabama’s offense became more dynamic as Tagovailoa went downfield early and often.
The starter was smiling as he was interviewed on the field about Tagovailoa’s performance. Hurts was a constant supportive presence to Tagovailoa in the second half, offering encouragement to the freshman dropped into a seemingly untenable task.
“He stepped in and did his thing,” Hurts said. “Did his thing for the team.”
Hurts took over as Alabama’s starter officially in the second game of the 2016 season and never relinquished the job, even after Tagovailoa’s presence on campus made many Alabama fans wonder if there was a quarterback controversy at hand.
Tagovailoa was the No. 3 dual-threat quarterback in the class of 2017 and saw some playing time over the course of the season, though it was clear that Hurts was the starting quarterback. Now, it’s probably not so clear going forward. But that’s to worry about later.
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