Hurts ral­lies No. 1 Al­abama to SEC ti­tle

Backup QB sparks the Tide af­ter Tago­v­ailoa in­jury in nar­row tri­umph over the Bull­dogs

Sunday Star - - SPORTS - AT­LANTA (AP) AR­LING­TON, TEXAS (AP) OR­LANDO, FLA. (AP) AMES, (AP)

Al­abama 35 Ge­or­gia 28

— 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, No. 1 CFP) to a game-ty­ing touch­down with a 10-yard pass to Jerry Jeudy, cap­ping a 16-play, 80-yard drive that con­sumed more than 7 min­utes .

Af­ter Ge­or­gia (11-2, No. 4 CFP) 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 15yard 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 only 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, it was Hurts who 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-by-side 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 ever ybody.”

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.

This was an­other galling loss for Sa­ban’s for­mer as­sis­tant, Kirby Smart. He’s quickly built Ge­or­gia into a na­tional pow­er­house, but he keeps com­ing up short against his ex-boss.

For the sec­ond time in about 11 months, the Bull­dogs squan­dered a dou­bledigit lead to the Crim­son Tide. While this one didn’t end with the sud­den­ness of that na­tional ti­tle game, it hurt just as bad. They had had an­other chance to knock off the team that had been No. 1 in the polls all season, a team that has built per­haps the great­est ri­valry in col­lege foot­ball his­tory. Again, it slipped away. “With a team like that, you’ve got to be able to put them way be­cause they keep hang­ing on,” Ge­or­gia tight end Isaac Nauta said. “They’ve been do­ing it for a lot of years.”

Ge­or­gia’s Jake Fromm threw for 301 yards and three touch­downs, while Tago­v­ailoa was only 10 of 25 for 164 yards. The Al­abama quar­ter­back had a pair of in­ter­cep­tions, match­ing his to­tal for the en­tire season, though he did spark the come­back with a 51-yard touch­down pass to Jaylen Wad­dle late in the third quar­ter, cut­ting Ge­or­gia’s lead to 28-21.

Hurts took it from there.

THE TAKE­AWAY Al­abama: This was the sort of chal­lenge that should serve the Crim­son Tide well in the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off. The Crim­son Tide had not been in se­ri­ous trou­ble all season, beat­ing ev­ery­one by at least 22 points, but they showed plenty of grit when fi­nally chal­lenged by the Bull­dogs. Al­abama was out­gained in to­tal yards

(454-403) and dom­i­nated in time of pos­ses­sion (Ge­or­gia held the ball for more than

35 min­utes), but Sa­ban’s team found a way to do what it does bet­ter than any­one: win.

Ge­or­gia: The Bull­dogs will be kick­ing them­selves for the way they let this one slip away. Twice, on thir­dand-short with a chance to ex­tend drives, they failed to con­ver t. The fake punt was a baf­fling de­ci­sion — a di­rect snap to backup quar­ter­back Justin Fields, who looked like he wanted to throw, took off run­ning and didn’t come close to pick­ing up the first down. That gave Al­abama a short field to work with on its win­ning drive.

UP NEXT Al­abama: The Crim­son Tide heads to the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off for the fifth year in a row, un­doubt­edly as the No. 1 seed and the fa­vorite to win an­other na­tional ti­tle. Al­abama will be in the semi­fi­nals and is ex­pected to play in the Cot­ton Bowl. The op­po­nent could be Ok­la­homa, Ohio State or maybe even Ge­or­gia. Sa­ban en­dorsed the Bull­dogs for a spot in the play­off, say­ing “they’re one of the four best teams in the coun­try.”

Ge­or­gia: The Bull­dogs are hop­ing to land a play­off spot but will likely have to set­tle for a trip to the Sugar Bowl as a con­so­la­tion prize. BIG 12 CHAM­PI­ONSHIP Ok­lagoma 39, Texas 27

— Kyler Mur­ray threw for 379 yards Ge­or­gia de­fen­sive back Richard LeCounte misses the tackle on Al­abama wide re­ceiver Jaylen Wad­dle dur­ing the sec­ond half of Satur­day’s SEC cham­pi­onship game.

and three touch­downs and No. 5 Ok­la­homa beat No. 9 Texas in the Big 12 cham­pi­onship game, with the Soon­ers aveng­ing their only loss and mak­ing their case for a re­turn to the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off.

Mur­ray, the Heis­man Tro­phy-con­tend­ing du­althreat quar­ter­back, threw two TD passes to Grant Cal­caterra. That in­cluded an im­pres­sive 18-yard score on a third-and-10 play with two min­utes left as the Soon­ers

(12-1, No. 5 CFP) won their sev­enth con­sec­u­tive game de­spite be­ing held to fewer than 40 points for the first time in nine games.

Sam Eh­linger was 23-of36 pass­ing for 349 yards with two touch­downs, and ran for two scores for Texas

(9-4), but his fi­nal pass was picked off by Tre Nor­wood at the 1 in the fi­nal minute.

Ok­la­homa is the first Power Five team to win four con­sec­u­tive out­right con­fer­ence ti­tles since Florida in the SEC in the mid-1990s.

The Soon­ers went ahead to stay on Austin Seib­ert’s third field goal, a 31-yarder with 12:37 left that was good af­ter ric­o­chet­ing off the top of the left up­right to make it

30-27.

Two plays af­ter Ok­la­homa’s only turnover, when re­ceiver CeeDee Lamb fum­bled inside the 10 af­ter a

54-yard catch-and-run with nine min­utes left, the Soon­ers got points any­way. Cor­ner­back Tre Brown sacked

Eh­linger in the end zone for a safety.

The 114th meet­ing be­tween the Red River ri­vals was their first in a cham­pi­onship game — and the first time since 1903 they had played twice in the same season. Ev­ery game since

1929 had been played about

20 miles away at the State Fair of Texas, where the Longhorns beat Ok­la­homa

48-45 eight weeks ago. AAC CHAM­PI­ONSHIP UCF 56, Mem­phis 41

— Darriel Mack shrugged off two early turnovers to rush for three sec­ond-half touch­downs and rally No. 7 UCF past Mem­phis in the Amer­i­can Ath­letic Con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship game.

With the red-shirt fresh­man fill­ing in for in­jured McKen­zie Mil­ton, the Knights (12-0, No. 8 CFP) won their sec­ond straight league ti­tle and ex­tended the na­tion’s long­est win­ning streak to 25 games.

Mack also threw for 348 yards and two TDs with­out an in­ter­cep­tion.

Greg McCrae ran for

206 yards and a TD for the Knights, who beat the Tigers 62-55 in the 2017 AAC ti­tle game and ral­lied from a

16-point sec­ond-half deficit to win 31-30 at Mem­phis in the reg­u­lar season.

This time, UCF trailed

38-21 at half­time be­fore scor­ing touch­downs on five straight pos­ses­sions in the sec­ond half. Dar­rell Hen­der­son

scored on runs of

62, 12 and 82 yards and also throw a 4-yard TD pass to help Mem­phis (8-5) build its big half­time lead. But the na­tion’s sec­ond-lead­ing rusher only gained 3 yards on six car­ries in the sec­ond half, fin­ish­ing with 210 yards on 16 car­ries.

Iowa State 27, Drake 24

IOWA — David Mont­gomery ran for 145 yards and two touch­downs and No. 24 Iowa State barely sur­vived a near-up­set by non-schol­ar­ship FCS school Drake.

Brock Purdy had 153 yards pass­ing and a TD for the Cy­clones (8-4), who fought through per­sis­tent rain and a sloppy field to win their sixth straight home game, ty­ing a school record.

The Bull­dogs (7-4) forced turnovers on back-to-back pos­ses­sions to open the sec­ond half. They turned the sec­ond one, a pick of Kyle Kempt’s pass, into a 19-yard TD pass from Grant Krae­mer to Devin Cates and a

24-20 lead in the third quar­ter. Iowa State re­sponded with a 7-yard touch­down re­cep­tion by De­shaunte Jones to jump back on top, and Spencer Ben­ton and JaQuan Bai­ley came up with sacks to force Drake punts. Mont­gomery’s 2-yard run on a third-down-and-1 with

1:26 left sealed it. Krae­mer threw for 221 yards and three TDs. Drake out­gained Iowa State 279273.

AP PHOTO

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