Tua Tagovailoa hit DeVonta Smith with a 41-yard touchdown pass in overtime early Tuesday morning, giving Alabama a dramatic 26-23 win over Georgia in the championship game of the College Football Playoff at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
“The resiliency of this team to come through in the second half … I’m so proud of our players to come back after the first half we played wasn’t very good,” Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said.
The Bulldogs (13-2) got the ball first in overtime and took a three-point lead on a 51-yard field goal by Rodrigo Blankenship. After Tagovailoa was sacked for a 16-yard loss on first down, he found Smith wide open down the left side for the play that turned him into an instant legend in Alabama.
Alabama forced overtime when Tagovailoa hit Calvin Ridley for a 7-yard touchdown pass on a 4th down play with 3:49 remaining, capping its rally from a 13-point halftime deficit.
The Crimson Tide had a chance to win it at the end of regulation, but Andy Pappanastos pulled a 36-yard field goal try wide left as time expired. It was his first miss in 14 career attempts of 36 yards or shorter.
Blankenship finished 14- and 13-play drives with 41 and 27-yard field goals for a 6-0 Georgia lead with 7:33 left in the second quarter. The Bulldogs made it a 13-0 game at halftime when wide receiver Mecole Hardman took a direct snap and scored on a 1-yard run with seven seconds remaining.
The move to Tagovailoa paid dividends on his second possession. He led a seven-play, 56-yard drive that ended with a 6-yard touchdown pass to Henry Ruggs with 8:52 left in the third quarter.
Georgia responded exactly two minutes later with a stunning score. Freshman Jake Fromm heaved a bomb down the right sideline for Hardman, who made the catch, eluded a tackle and tightroped 80 yards to the end zone for a 20-7 advantage.
Pappanastos brought Alabama within 20-13 with 43 and 30-yard field goals, giving Tagovailoa, who replaced the benched Jalen Hurts at halftime, the chance to play the hero’s role.
Tagovailoa started the second half and completed 14 of 24 passes for 166 yards and three touchdowns with an interception. Fromm was 16 of 32 for 232 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.
It was the sixth national championship for Saban, tying him with Bear Bryant for the most in the bowl era. This one denied the Bulldogs their first national title since 1980.
–Field Level Media