ATLANTA – (Staff and Wire Service Report from The Sports Xchange) – Nick Saban made a quarterback switch at halftime and Alabama has its fifth national championship in nine years thanks to a wild overtime victory.
Tua Tagovailoa (13)
Tua Tagovailoa hit fellow freshman DeVonta Smith for a 41-yard touchdown pass as Alabama rallied from a 13-point deficit in the third quarter for a 26-23 victory over stunned Georgia on Monday night in the College Football Playoff Championship Game.
Georgia’s Rodrigo Blankenship kicked a 51-yard field to start overtime, but Tagovailoa, who had replaced starter Jalen Hurts, hit Smith at the goal line one play after taking a sack.
“This is the happiest I’ve been in my life,” said a jubilant Saban, who tied Alabama legend Bear Bryant’s record of six national championships.
Alabama (13-1) won its second national title in three years a season after losing to Clemson on the last play of the game last year.
“We said after that game, don’t waste a failure and we showed that kind of resilience all season,” Saban said.
Alabama, down 20-7 at one point, appeared set to win in regulation, but kicker Andy Pappanastos was wide left from 36 yards out as time expired.
“There was no doubt in my mind that we were going to win,” Georgia running back Nick Chubb said.
Georgia (13-2) beat Oklahoma 54-48 in two overtimes at the Rose Bowl to reach the title game, but Tagovailoa made sure the Bulldogs’ drought without a national championship would reach 37 years.
“When they called the play, I looked at Tua and I said, ‘Trust me’,” said Smith, who came in with two touchdowns on seven catches.
Tagovailoa’s winning throw was his third touchdown pass of the game after eight previously, most in lopsided games. He finished 14-of-24 for 166 yards in relief of Hurts and was named the offensive player of the game.
“We needed a spark and Tua certainly gave us that,” Saban said.
“Coach talked to us at halftime and told me I was going to start,” said Tagovailoa, a native of Hawaii. “I took it from there.”
Georgia freshman quarterback Jake Fromm was 16 of 32 for 232 yards and a touchdown, throwing two interceptions to Tagovailoa’s one.
Alabama went for it on fourth-and-4 from the 7-yard line and tied the game with 3:49 remaining in regulation as Tagovailoa hit Calvin Ridley in the end zone to climax a 66-yard drive that benefited from a Georgia pass interference call.
Tagovailoa replaced Hurts to start the second half and led Alabama to a touchdown on his second series, hitting Henry Ruggs III from 6 yards out.
“They were struggling at halftime and (Tagovailoa) gave them some juice,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said.
Georgia quickly countered, though, as Fromm teamed with Mecole Hardman for an 80-yard touchdown on the fourth play after taking over at the 7-yard line following the kickoff.
Pappanastos made a 43-yard field goal late in the third quarter after an exchange of interceptions and hit from 30 yards early in the fourth to cut Georgia’s lead to 20-13.
Georgia outgained Alabama 223 yards to 94 in the first half and led 13-0 on wide receiver Hardman’s 1-yard sweep on a direct snap with seven seconds left before intermission.
The touchdown drive covered 69 yards and the Bulldogs went 55 and 70 yards to set up second-quarter field goals of 41 and 27 yards by Blankenship.
Alabama had a chance for an early lead after safety Tony Brown intercepted Fromm on Georgia’s third play, but a false start penalty wiped off a 35-yard field goal and Pappanastos missed from 40.
Hurts had a 31-yard run in the first half and 47 yards on the ground total, but only 21 yards passing while completing 3-of-8 throws.
It looked like Smart would be the first former assistant to beat Saban. Instead, the record is 12-0.
Smart, though, has the Bulldogs on the rise after only two seasons.
“I think everybody can see that Georgia is a force to be reckoned win,” Smart said. “We’re not going anywhere. The standard has been set.”
NOTES: Alabama OL Bradley Bozeman proposed to girlfriend Nikki Hegstetter on the field immediately after the win. Hegstetter, a former Alabama basketball player, said yes. … President Donald Trump attended the game and was on the field for the National Anthem. … Alabama NG Da’Ron Payne was defensive player of the game. … Herschel Walker, who led Georgia to its 1980 national title as a freshman running back, was honorary captain for the Bulldogs. … Alabama was without OLB Anfernee Jennings and RG Lester Connor, who suffered knee injuries in the Sugar Bowl, and LT Jonah Williams had to leave early in the third quarter. … P JK Scott and OLB Rashaan Evans were the only Alabama players to play in the College Football Playoff each of its four years. … Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, like Georgia’s Kirby Smart two years ago, worked the title game before taking over as an SEC head coach. Pruitt will coach Tennessee. … The 2019 CFP championship will be played at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif