ATLANTA — A year ago in the final game of the season, Nick Saban thought he had won his fifth national title at Alabama behind an incredible comeback from a true freshman quarterback.
Turns out, that storyline had to wait a year.
Crimson Tide freshman signal-caller Tua Tagovailoa came off the bench to start the second half and cap off an epic comeback that won’t ever be forgotten around Tuscaloosa, beating SEC rival Georgia 26-23 in overtime on Monday night at Mercedes-Benz Stadium to deliver the school’s 13th recognized national championship.
Tagovailoa was a clear spark for the Tide from the moment he jogged onto the field out of the locker room to replace ineffective sophomore starter Jalen Hurts (3-of-8 passing, 47 yards rushing), who was part of the reason why the team was shutout in the first half. The five-star freshman from Hawaii was dynamic with the ball in his hands, scrambling out of near sacks numerous times (to go with 27 yards rushing) and throwing for 166 yards and three touchdown passes.
That second to last of those two scores came with just 3:21 left on the clock after he evaded the rush on fourth down to find superstar wideout Calvin Ridley waiting in the middle of the end zone for a seven yard strike. That tied the game at 20-all and sent a chill down the naturally pro-Georgia crowd who witnessed an all to familiar Atlanta sports moment in the process.
Bama kicker Andy Pappanastos missed the 36 yarder wide right as time expired but Tagovailoa didn’t mind, finding DeVonta Smith from 41 yards out to send up the confetti for the Tide in one of the most indelible moments in college football on the grandest stage the sport has to offer.
The story was a familiar one for the most part up until those final few minutes for the Bulldogs.
True freshman quarterback Jake Fromm made several clutch throws and the team got some incredible stops from linebacker Roquan Smith but it wasn’t enough in the end as the team played their second straight overtime game of this College Football Playoff. The former looked far from a youngster despite throwing two interceptions (one an arm punt on the second play of the game, the other off a tipped ball) and finished with a career high 32 attempts through the air to rack up 232 yards. Fromm was a big reason why the team was able to move the ball after a tough night on the ground.
The normally reliable UGA run game found things much harder to get going than it did against Oklahoma in their semifinal win out at the Rose Bowl. Sony Michel did rip off a 26 yard run to help keep a scoring drive alive early but was otherwise held in check (98 yards) along with teammate Nick Chubb (25 yards) as the team couldn’t hold onto a 20-7 lead in the second half.
The win keeps Saban a perfect 12-0 against his former assistants after beating Kirby Smart in what might be the most satisfying victory of the coach’s career. Not only did the Alabama legend tie Bear Bryant with sixth national title ring, he kept the dynasty rolling with the program’s fifth championship in eight seasons. After last year’s heartbreak with one second left on the clock, this time it was Alabama who reigned supreme to cap off the 2017 season in thrilling fashion with an ending that nobody will forget in the decades to come.