TIDAL SURGE


Freshmen roar to rescue in Dawg-gone finish

Associated Press

ATLANTA

Tua Tagovailoa threw a 41-yard touchdown to DeVonta Smith to give No. 4 Alabama a 26-23 overtime victory against No. 3 Georgia to win the College Football Playoff national championship Monday night.

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

After Alabama kicker Andy Pappanastos missed a 37-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 of overtime, losing 16 yards.

On the next play he found Smith, another freshman, streaking down the sideline and hit him in stride for the national championship.

This game will be remembered for Saban’s 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. “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 one was nothing like the others.

The all-Southeastern Conference matchup was all Georgia in the first half before Saban pulled Hurts and went with the five-star recruit from Hawaii to start the second half.

The Tide trailed 13-0 at halftime and 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 to 1980.

Hurts had gone just 3-of-8 passing for 21 yards in the first half while running for 47 yards, and Alabama’s offense looked completely stagnant.

Tagovailoa, a five-star recruit from Hawaii, completed 14 of 24 passes for 166 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 27 yards. He had played in eight games this season.

Most of his action came in mop up duties, and Alabama went three-and-out on his first drive.

The lefty was far more successful on drive No. 2.

Tagovailoa passed and ran the Tide to its first score of the game, a 6-yard touchdown to freshman Henry Ruggs III.

He converted a third-and-7 play with a nifty run. He ran right and, with three Georgia defenders around him, reversed field and scampered for a first down on the TD drive.

On his third drive, Tagovailoa’s up and down start continued. He threw an interception in Alabama territory when all the receivers on that side of the field were blocking.

Then a quick Alabama interception set him up in Georgia territory but the Tide settled for a field goal after three straight incompletions.

Coming into the game, Tagovailoa had completed 35 of 53 passes for 470 yards with eight touchdowns against one interception.

Hurts was the Southeastern Conference offensive player of the year as a freshman last season and has thrown only one interception all season. But he struggled in a loss to Auburn in the regular season and played better in the Sugar Bowl against Clemson but still passed for just 120 yards.

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