Hurts ral­lies No. 1 Alabama to win over No. 4 Ge­or­gia

The Bradenton Herald (Sunday) - - Sports - 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, No. 1 Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off) to a game-ty­ing touch­down with a 10-yard pass to Jerry Jeudy, cap­ping a 16-play, 80-yard drive that con­sumed more than seven 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 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 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 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.

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.

JOHN AMIS AP

Alabama quar­ter­back Jalen Hurts points to fans af­ter help­ing the Crim­son Tide de­feat Ge­or­gia 35-28 in the South­east­ern Con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship game Sat­ur­day in At­lanta.

JOHN BAZEMORE AP

Alabama tight end Irv Smith Jr. hits Ge­or­gia de­fen­sive back Tyson Camp­bell in the hel­met dur­ing the first half of the SEC cham­pi­onship game Sat­ur­day in At­lanta.

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