Hurts di­rects Tide to SEC cham­pi­onship

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - SPORTS SUNDAY - By Paul New­berry

AT­LANTA — In a dra­matic twist on last sea­son’s na­tional cham­pi­onship game, Jalen Hurts came off the bench to pass for one touch­down and run for an­other in the fourth quar­ter, ral­ly­ing No. 1 Alabama to a 35-28 win over No. 4 Ge­or­gia for the South­east­ern Con­fer­ence ti­tle Sat­ur­day.

Heis­man Tro­phy fa­vorite Tua Tago­v­ailoa had to be helped off the field with just over 11 min­utes re­main­ing af­ter one of his own line­men stepped on the quar­ter­back’s right an­kle as he at­tempted to throw.

En­ter Hurts, who led Alabama to the na­tional ti­tle game as a fresh­man but lost the start­ing job to Tago­v­ailoa. Hurts calmly guided the Crim­son Tide (13-0) to a game-ty­ing touch­down with a 10yard pass to Jerry Jeudy, cap­ping a 16-play, 80-yard drive that con­sumed more than seven min­utes.

Af­ter Ge­or­gia (11-2) was stuffed on a fake punt near mid­field, Hurts took mat­ters into his own hands for the win­ning score. Spot­ting an open­ing up the mid­dle, he took off on a 15-yard TD run with 1:04 re­main­ing .

“All year, I've kind of been wait­ing on my op­por­tu­nity,” Hurts said. “My op­por­tu­nity came to­day. I worked so hard this week with my team­mates. We found a way to get it done to­day.”

This was a rev­er­sal of the sto­ry­line from last sea­son's na­tional ti­tle game, when Tago­v­ailoa re­placed an in­ef­fec­tive Hurts at the start of the sec­ond half with Alabama trail­ing Ge­or­gia 13-0. The re­place­ment threw three touch­down passes, in­clud­ing a 41-yarder in over­time that gave the Tide a stun­ning 26-23 vic­tory.

Tago­v­ailoa won the start­ing job in pre­sea­son prac­tice and per­formed bril­liantly dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son, throw­ing 36 touch­down passes with two in­ter­cep­tions.

The SEC ti­tle game took a dif­fer­ent path. Ge­or­gia put quite a beat­ing on Tago­v­ailoa, who was picked off twice, spent much of his spare time in the med­i­cal tent and was largely in­ef­fec­tive as the Bull­dogs built a pair of two-touch­down leads.

This time, Hurts bailed out the Crim­son Tide. When he trot­ted off the field af­ter the win­ning TD, Tago­v­ailoa was one of the first ones to greet him on the side­line . After­ward, they stood side-by­side on the podium in the mid­dle of the field while Alabama re­ceived its SEC cham­pi­onship tro­phy.

Alabama coach Nick Sa­ban summed it up best: “Wow.”

Now, the Crim­son Tide is headed back to the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off, look­ing for its sec­ond straight na­tional ti­tle and the sixth of the last decade un­der Sa­ban.

“I know at Alabama, there's al­ways an op­por­tu­nity to win,” Hurts said. “We worked so hard in the off­sea­son — blood, sweat and tears to­gether. To­day, we found a way to get it done. I'm so happy, so happy for ev­ery­body.”

Ge­or­gia can make a pretty good case for the play­off, too, but the Bull­dogs will likely get left out. Big 12 cham­pion Ok­la­homa avenged its only loss by beat­ing Texas, and No. 6 Ohio State still had a chance to make its case in the Big Ten ti­tle game.

Ge­or­gia's Jake Fromm threw for 301 yards and three touch­downs; Tago­v­ailoa was only 10of-25 for 164 yards. The Alabama quar­ter­back had a pair of in­ter­cep­tions, match­ing his to­tal for the en­tire sea­son.,

Kevin C. Cox / Getty Im­ages

Jalen Hurts passed for one touch­down and ran for an­other in the fourth quar­ter as the Crim­son Tide de­feated the Bull­dogs in the SEC ti­tle game.

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