Tide tops UGA in OT

The Standard Journal - - SPORTS - As­so­ci­ated Press Col­lege Foot­ball Writer By Ralph D. Russo

AT­LANTA — To add another cham­pi­onship to the great­est dy­nasty col­lege foot­ball has ever seen, Alabama turned to its quar­ter­back of the fu­ture, and Tua Tago­v­ailoa proved that his time is now.

The fresh­man quar­ter­back, who had played mostly mop-up duty this sea­son, came off the bench to spark a come­back and threw a 41-yard touch­down to DeVonta Smith that gave No. 4 Alabama a 26-23 over­time vic­tory against No. 3 Ge­or­gia on Mon­day night for the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off na­tional cham­pi­onship.

Tago­v­ailoa en­tered the game at half­time, re­plac­ing a strug­gling Jalen Hurts, and threw three touch­down passes to give the Crim­son Tide its fifth na­tional cham­pi­onship since 2009 un­der coach Nick Sa­ban.

“He just stepped in and did his thing,” Hurts said. “He’s built for stuff like this. I’m so happy for him.” The Tide might have a quar­ter­back con­tro­versy ahead, but first Alabama will cel­e­brate another ti­tle.

For the third straight sea­son, Al- abama played a clas­sic CFP fi­nal. The Tide split two with Clem­son, los­ing last sea­son on a touch­down with a sec­ond left.

What was Sa­ban think­ing as the win­ning pass soared this time?

“I could not be­lieve it,” he said. “There’s lots of highs and lows. Last year we lost on the last play of the game and this year we won on the last play of the game. These kids re­ally re­sponded the right way. We said last year, ‘Don’t waste the feel­ing.’ They sure didn’t, the way they played tonight.”

Smith streaked into the end zone and mo­ments later con­fetti rained and even Sa­ban seemed al­most giddy af­ter watchi ng maybe t he most im­prob­a­ble vic­tory of his un­matched ca­reer. A few hours later, Alabama was voted No. 1 in the fi­nal AP col­lege foot­ball poll for the 11th time, three more than any other pro­gram.

Af­ter Alabama kicker Andy Pap­panas­tos missed a 36- yard field goal that would have won it for the Tide (13-1) in the fi­nal sec­onds of reg­u­la­tion , Ge­or­gia (13-2) took the lead with a 51-yard field goal from Ro­drigo Blanken­ship in over­time.

Tago­v­ailoa took a ter­ri­ble sack on Alabama’s first play, los­ing 16 yards. On the next he found Smith, another fresh­man, and hit him in stride for the na­tional cham­pi­onship.

Tago­v­ailoa was bril­liant at times, though he had a few fresh­man mo­ments. He threw an in­ter­cep­tion when he tried to pass on a run­ning play and all his re­ceivers were block­ing. He also darted away from pass rush­ers and made some im­pec­ca­ble throws, show­ing poise of a vet­eran. Fac­ing fourth-and-goal from the 7, down seven, the left-han­der moved to his left and zipped a pass through traf­fic that hit Calvin Ri­d­ley in the num­bers for the ty­ing score with 3:49 left in the fourth quar­ter.

He fin­ished 14 for 24 for 166 yards. The win­ning play was, ba­si­cally, four re­ceivers go­ing deep.

“Af­ter the sack, we just got up and took it to the next play,” Tago­v­ailoa said. “I looked back out, and he was wide open. Smitty was wide open.” Fresh­men were ev­ery­where for the Alabama of­fense in the sec­ond half: Na­jee Har­ris at run­ning back; Henry Ruggs III at re­ceiver; Alex Leather­wood at left tackle af­ter All-Amer­i­can Jonah Wil­liams was hurt. It’s a tes­ta­ment to the re­lent­less ma­chine Sa­ban has built.

But this game will be re­mem­bered most for his de­ci­sion to change quar­ter­backs trail­ing 13-0.

“I just thought we had to throw the ball, and I felt he could do it bet­ter, and he did,” Sa­ban said Tago­v­ailoa. “He did a good job, made some plays in the pass­ing game. Just a great win. I’m so happy for Alabama fans. Great for our play­ers. Un­be­liev­able.”

Sa­ban now has six ma­jor poll na­tional cham­pi­onships, in­clud­ing one at LSU, match­ing the record set by the man who led Alabama’s last dy­nasty, coach Paul Bear Bryant.

This was noth­ing like the others.

With Pres­i­dent Trump in at­ten­dance, the al­lSouth­east­ern Con­fer­ence matchup was all Ge­or­gia in the first half be­fore Sa­ban pulled Hurts and the five-star re­cruit from Hawaii en­tered. The pres­i­dent watched the sec­ond half from Air Force One.

“I don’t know how Coach Sa­ban found me all the way in Hawaii from Alabama,” Tago­v­ailoa said. “Thank God he found me and we’re here right now.”

The Tide trailed 20-7 in the third quar­ter af­ter Ge­or­gia’s fresh­man quar­ter­back, Jake Fromm, hit Mecole Hard­man for an 80-yard touch­down pass that had the Ge­or­gia fans feel­ing good about end­ing a na­tional ti­tle drought that dates back to 1980.

Fromm threw for 232 yards and for a while it looked as if he was go­ing to be the fresh­man star of the game, the first to true fresh­man to lead his team to a na­tional ti­tle sea­son since Jamelle Holieway for Ok­la­homa in 1985.

“I mean, if you want to find out about Jake Fromm, go ask those guys on the other side of the ball, and they’ll tell you be­cause that’s a re­ally good de­fense he just went against,” Ge­or­gia coach Smart said.

A lit­tle less than a year af­ter the At­lanta Fal­cons blew a 25-point lead and lost in over­time to the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots in the Su­per Bowl, there was more pain for many of the lo­cal fans. Two years ago, Ge­or­gia brought in Smart, Sa­ban’s top lieu­tenant, to bring to his alma mater a dose of Alabama’s Process.

Smart, who spent 11 sea­sons with Sa­ban — eight as de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor in Tuscaloosa — quickly built ‘ Bama East. It was Ge­or­gia that won the SEC this sea­son. Alabama had to slip into the play­off with­out even win­ning its di­vi­sion.

With the ti­tle game be­ing played 70 miles from Ge­or­gia’s cam­pus in Athens, Dawgs fans packed Mercedes-Benz Sta­dium, but it turned out to be sweet home for Alabama. Now Sa­ban is 12-0 against his for­mer as­sis­tants. But not with­out angst. Alabama drove into the red zone in the fi­nal minute and Sa­ban started play­ing for a win­ning field goal to end the game. A ner­vous quiet gripped the crowd of 77,430 as ‘Bama burned the clock. With the ball spot­ted in the mid­dle of the field, Pap­panas­tos lined up for a kick to win the na­tional cham­pi­onship. The snap and hold looked fine, but the kicked missed badly to the left.

For the sec­ond straight week, Ge­or­gia was go­ing to over­time. The Bull­dogs beat Ok­la­homa in a wild Rose Bowl in dou­ble over­time to get here, and af­ter Jonathan Led­bet­ter a nd Davin Bel­lamy sacked Tago­v­ailoa for a big loss on the first play, Alabama was in trou­ble — sec­ond-and-26.

Not for long. Tago­v­ailoa looked off the safety and threw the big­gest touch­down pass in the his­tory of Alabama foot­ball.

David J. Phillip / AP

Alabama’s An­thony Averett trips up Ge­or­gia run­ning back Nick Chubb for a loss dur­ing the sec­ond half of the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off na­tional cham­pi­onship game.

David Gold­man / AP

Alabama’s Raek­won Davis sacks Ge­or­gia’s Jake Fromm.

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