Alabama won its fifth national title since 2009 early Tuesday morning with some late heroics, taking down a 26-23, overtime victory over Georgia in Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on a 41-yard touchdown pass from Tua Tagovailoa to DeVonta Smith.
“I’m happy for all these folks. I’m happy for our players,” Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban told ESPN after the game. “This is a great win for our players, and I’ve never been happier in my life.”
Georgia (13-2) hit the scoreboard first just into the second quarter, with a 41-yard field goal from Rodrigo Blankenship capping a 14-play, 55-yard drive that spanned seven minutes and 40 seconds. Another Blankenship field goal and a one-yard touchdown scamper from Mecole Hardman gave the Bulldogs a 13-0 halftime advantage.
Alabama (13-1) replaced Jalen Hurts at quarterback with Tagovailoa to start the second half, and that move paid immediate dividends. A six-yard strike to Henry Ruggs brought the Tide back to within six.
“I just thought we had to throw the ball in the game, and I thought he (Tagovailoa) could do it better, and he did,” Saban told ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi. “He did a good job. He made some plays in the passing game.”
Hardman found the end zone for a second time on the ensuing possession, catching an 80-yard strike from Jake Fromm and just staying inbounds, extending the Georgia lead to 20-7. A 43-yard field goal from Andy Pappanastos brought the margin to 20-10.
Another Pappanastos field goal, this time from 30 yards, chipped the Georgia lead to just a touchdown with 9:24 to play.
Following a three-and-out from Georgia, an eight-play, 66-yard drive by Alabama found pay dirt on a seven-yard toss from Tagovailoa to Calvin Ridley on fourth-and-four, tying the game at 20 with 3:49 remaining.
The Bulldogs again went three-and-out, setting the stage for what appeared to be the game-winning drive. The Tide marched 48 yards on 10 plays, but Pappanastos’ 36-yard try hooked left as time expired in regulation.
The first Georgia drive of the overtime period went minus-nine yards following a sack of Fromm. Blankenship drilled a 51-yard field goal try, however, giving Georgia a 23-20 advantage.
Tagovailoa was himself sacked on the first play of Alabama’s possession, but threw the game-winning score to Smith down the left sideline on the next play.
The Alabama freshman quarterback finished 14-for-24 in relief, throwing for 166 yards and three touchdowns against just one interception.
“It was a team effort tonight. It couldn’t have been done without our defense getting us the ball back, (and) our (offensive) line blocking, working their butts off, as well as our receivers,” Tagovailoa told ESPN’s Maria Taylor. “It was just a great team effort. They were the guys that made me look good tonight.”
The championship is Saban’s sixth, tying him with legendary Tide coach Bear Bryant at the top of the leaderboard in the modern era.
Alabama begins defense of its crown September 1st in Orlando, facing off with Louisville in a neutral-site affair. Georgia’s 2018 campaign will begin that same day, with a home date against FCS opponent Austin Peay.