CFP national championship: Alabama 26, Georgia 23

Freshmen lead Alabama to heart-stopping OT win

Freshman DeVonta Smith celebrated after his 41-yard, game-winning touchdown catch in overtime.
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Freshman DeVonta Smith celebrated after his 41-yard, game-winning touchdown catch in overtime.

ATLANTA — Same old Alabama. Brand-new star.

Freshman Tua Tagovailoa threw a 41-yard touchdown to DeVonta Smith to give Alabama a 26-23 overtime victory against Georgia to win the College Football Playoff national championship Monday night at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

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 36-yard field goal that would have won it for the Tide in the final seconds of regulation, Georgia took the lead with a 51-yard field goal from Rodrigo Blankenship in overtime.

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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.’’

What was he thinking as the winning pass soared?


‘‘I could not believe it,’’ Saban 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.’’

Georgia was trying to win its first national title since 1980.

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 its national title drought.

Alabama drove into the red zone in the final minute and Saban started playing for a field goal that would end the game and win it for the Tide. A nervous quiet gripped the crowd of 77,430 as ‘Bama burned the clock. With the ball centered 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 and 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 threw the biggest touchdown pass in the history of Alabama football.

Tagovailoa had thrown a 7-yard touchdown on a fourth-and-4 play with 3:49 left to tie the game at 20. The play came after Georgia’s Roquan Smith and Trenton Thompson stuffed Damien Harris for a 1-yard loss on third down.

Alabama has closed to 20-13 in the fourth quarter as Pappanastos kicked his second field goal of the game, a 30-yarder with 9:24 left. The score came one play after Georgia’s Dominick Sanders nearly picked off Tagovailoa’s overthrown pass in the end zone.

Pappanastos had pulled Alabama within 20-10 with 5:15 left in the third quarter. Pappanastos, who missed a 40-yard field-goal attempt in the first quarter, connected from 43 yards six plays after the Crimson Tide got their second interception in two games by a defensive lineman.

Raekwon Davis picked off a Fromm pass that bounced off the helmet of fellow defensive lineman Da'Shawn Hand.

Alabama got an interception from Da'Ron Payne in the playoff semifinal win over Clemson.

Fromm threw his 80-yard TD pass to Hardman to give Georgia a 20-7 lead with 6:52 left in the third quarter. The touchdown stood after a video review to see if Hardman stepped out of bounds at about the Alabama 20-yard line.

The Bulldogs got the ball back when Deandre Baker intercepted Tagovailoa, but the Crimson Tide got an interception of its own when a Fromm pass was tipped at the line.

Alabama has pulled within 13-7 in the third quarter after Tagovailoa hit Henry Ruggs III with a 6-yard touchdown pass to finish a seven-play, 56-yard drive.

Tagovailoa completed 4 of 5 passes, but he used his legs to make the biggest play. Under pressure after he dropped back to pass, he split two Georgia defenders and made a third miss as he scrambled for 9 yards on a third-and-7.

The Tide went three and out on their first series with Tagovailoa under center.

Alabama is playing the second half without offensive tackle Jonah Williams. The third-team All-American was replaced by Alex Leatherwood.

Trailing 13-0 at halftime, Alabama started Tagovailoa at quarterback in the second half. Tagovailoa replaced a struggling Hurts, who was just 3 of 8 passing for 21 yards in the first half while running for 47 yards.

Tagovailoa, a five-star recruit from Hawaii who went to the same high school as Marcus Mariota, played in eight games this season. He completed 35 of 53 passes for 470 yards with eight touchdowns against one interception, mostly in mop-up duty.

Hurts was the Southeastern Conference offensive player of the year as a freshman last season.

Alabama hadn’t been held scoreless in the first half since last season. It was also the first time since the 2012 national title game that a team failed to score in the first half. Alabama shut out Notre Dame going into the half en route to a 42-14 win.

The Crimson Tide had not been held scoreless in the first half since a 10-0 victory over LSU last season. All 10 of the Tide’s points came in the fourth quarter.

Coming into the game, Alabama had outscored opponents this season before the half, 270-56. Alabama had scored in 226 consecutive games.

Fromm was 11 of 23 for 126 yards, and Sony Michel has run eight times for 61 yards.

Fromm led the Bulldogs on a 69-yard touchdown drive in the last two minutes. Wide receiver Mecole Hardman took a direct snap and ran 1 yard into the end zone with seven seconds left.

Blankenship kicked field goals of 41 and 27 yards, and the Bulldogs’ defense held the Crimson Tide in check.

Alabama totaled just 95 yards on five possessions, and Hurts took a knee to end the half. The Tide punted four straight times after Pappanastos missed a 40-yard field goal on the Tide’s first possession.

Georgia got the ball back with 1:19 left in the half. Fromm threw passes of 10 and 16 yards and ran for 14 on Georgia’s way to the touchdown.

Hurts was 3 for 8 for 21 yards, with six carries for 47 yards.

Georgia wide receiver Riley Ridley flourished in his opportunity to emerge from the shadow cast by his older brother, Alabama star Calvin Ridley.

Ridley had four catches for 62 yards in the first half. He came into game with career highs of five catches for 67 yards against Vanderbilt in 2016. Meanwhile Calvin Ridley, a junior, is second in Alabama history with 220 career receptions, including a team-high 59 this season.

Blankenship kicked a 41-yard field goal on the second play of the second quarter. The Bulldogs got into position after moving from their 21 to the Alabama 24 in 14 plays.

The big play on the drive was Michel’s 26-yard run to the Alabama 26 on a third and 20 after Anthony Averett crashed through from the left side to sack Fromm.

Michel’s run was reviewed to see if he stepped out of bounds before the 26, but the Big Ten officiating crew’s spot was upheld.

Georgia turned over the ball on its opening possession, but came away unscathed after Alabama missed a field goal. Tony Brown wrestled a long pass away from Georgia’s Javon Wims to set up the Crimson Tide at their 36.

But Alabama failed to come away with points as Pappanastos’s 35-yard field goal was nullified by a false start, and he pulled his second attempt from 40 yards wide left.

Before the game, Frank Beamer, Mack Brown, and Matt Stinchcomb — named to the 2018 College Football Hall of Fame on Monday — were on the field for the coin toss, along with honorary captains O.J. Howard of Alabama and Herschel Walker of Georgia. Alabama called tails and won the toss and deferred until the second half.

It was the 68th meeting between the Southeastern Conference rivals and first since 2015, when Alabama won, 38-10, in the regular season.

Alabama was in the title game for the third year in a row and seeking its fifth national title under Nick Saban since 2009. Georgia, led by second-year coach and former Saban assistant Kirby Smart, was looking for its first championship since 1980.

The Crimson Tide reached the title game with a 24-6 Sugar Bowl win over Clemson. The Bulldogs advanced with a 54-48 double-overtime win over Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl.

President Donald Trump was in attendance and on the field during the national anthem.

Trump walked onto the field accompanied by the ROTC units from Georgia and Alabama. He was greeted by mostly cheers. Trump waved to the crowd before the Zac Brown Band sang the anthem. Hand placed over his heart, Trump appeared to sing along at times.