BY TRISTAN SASSE
For the fifth time in nine years, the Alabama Crimson Tide have claimed the college football national championship. In an SEC showdown, Alabama defeated the Georgia Bulldogs 26-23 in overtime from Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia. It was the 17th national title in the history of Alabama football, while the Bulldogs haven’t won a championship since 1980.
Alabama set the tone on the third play of the game with an interception by Tony Brown. 10 plays later, Andy Pappanastos missed a 40-yard field goal wide left. Both teams leaned on their strong, top-rated defenses in the early going. The biggest play of the quarter was a 26-yard run by Georgia’s Sony Michel on third-and-20. Neither team scored in the opening quarter, but the Bulldogs were deep in Alabama territory. In the first quarter, the Crimson Tide allowed 64 yards, while the Bulldogs gave up 53.
Early in the second quarter, Rodrigo Blankenship gave Georgia the lead with a 41-yard field goal. Shortly after, the Bulldogs were on the move again. 2017 SEC Freshman of the Year Jake Fromm found Riley Ridley for a 23-yard reception on third-and-8. Fromm converted another third-and-long to Javon Wims, three plays later. The 12 play, 70-yard drive ended with a 27-yard field goal by Blankenship.
Alabama’s Jalen Hurts began the next drive with a 31-yard scramble, but after a sack by Davin Bellamy, Alabama was forced to punt. The Bulldogs responded by going 69 yards in 9 plays and finished the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run by Mecole Hardman just before the half. Georgia went into halftime with a 13-0 lead.
The Bulldogs finished the half with 223 yards, while holding Alabama to 94 yards. Additionally, Georgia had 16 first downs compared to four by the Crimson Tide.
For Georgia, Fromm completed 11-of-23 passes for 126 yards. Michel added 61 rushing yards, while Ridley had 62 receiving yards. For Alabama, Hurts completed 3-of-8 attempts for 21 yards. He also added 47 yards rushing on six attempts.
Georgia built their momentum at the start of the second half by forcing a three-and-out, which included a sack. On the following play, the Bulldogs blocked the punt which was overturned due to a questionable offside penalty.
True freshman Tua Tagovailoa replaced Hurts at quarterback in the second half and put together a solid drive during his second series. Tagovailoa marched the Crimson Tide down the field in seven plays that covered 56 yards. He trimmed the lead to six after finding Henry Ruggs III for a 6-yard touchdown reception in the back of the end zone.
The Bulldogs responded three plays later with an 80-yard receiving touchdown by Hardman. Shortly after, Tagovailoa threw an interception to Deandre Baker. On the following play, Alabama regained control of possession with an interception by Raekwon Davis. The Crimson Tide was held to 15 yards in six plays and Pappanastos settled for a 43-yard field goal. Entering the final quarter, Georgia held a 20-10 lead.
Early in the fourth quarter, Alabama was on the attack again. Najee Harris had runs of 16 and 35 yards to set the Crimson Tide up deep in Bulldog territory. Eventually, Alabama had to settle for another Pappanastos field goal, this time from 30 yards out. Minutes later, the Bulldogs were forced to punt and gave the ball back to the Crimson Tide with just over seven minutes remaining.
In less than four minutes, Alabama went 66 yards and found the end zone. On fourth-and-four, Tagovailoa connected with Calvin Ridley for a 7-yard touchdown reception. With 3:49 left in regulation, the game was tied at 20.
On the ensuing drive, Georgia’s offense continued to struggle and was forced to punt yet again. Alabama answered by charging down the field and moving well within field goal range. The Crimson Tide milked the clock, but Pappanastos missed a 36-yard field goal as time expired to send the game to overtime.
To start overtime, Georgia was unable to move the ball and had to settle for a 51-yard field goal by Blankenship. Following the score, the Bulldogs’ Bellamy sacked Tagovailoa for a 16-yard loss. On the next play, Tagovailoa threw a 41-yard touchdown pass to DeVonta Smith to end the season in style and seal the 26-23 win.
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By the Numbers
Alabama finished with 371 yards, while Georgia had 365. The Bulldogs had two more first downs, won the turnover differential by one, and led the time of possession.
For the Crimson Tide, in place of Hurts, Tagovailoa completed 14-of-24 attempts for 166 yards and three touchdowns. Harris added 64 yards on the ground for the Alabama offense.
For Georgia, Fromm completed 16-of-32 passes for 232 yards. After throwing only five interceptions all season, Fromm threw two on Monday night. Additionally, Michel contributed 98 rushing yards on 17 attempts. Ridley finished with 80 receiving yards and Hardman added 80 more.