ATLANTA — Down two touchdowns in the second half, the University of Alabama football team could have folded its tents and trusted itself to the tender mercies of the College Football Playoff Selection Committee.
The Crimson Tide had different ideas.
Facing its worst second-half adversity since the 2015 season, trailing by 14 points against a powerful Georgia team in front of a hostile crowd at the Mercedes-Benz Dome — and with its starting quarterback injured — No. 1 Alabama scored twice in the final 5:19 of the game to snatch a 35-28 victory from the Bulldog-fierce jaws of defeat.
Jalen Hurts, who came on after Tua Tagovailoa had to leave the game with an ankle injury early in the fourth quarter, directed those two drives, converting 5 of 5 third-down opportunities and scoring the game-winning touchdown on a 15-yard run with 1:04 to play.
Georgia drove into Alabama territory in the final minute but Jake Fromm’s Hail Mary pass from the 39-yard line was batted down in a scrum, clinching Alabama’s 27th Southeastern Conference title.
“This was a great team win,”Alabama head coach Nick Saban said. “It wasn’t our best performance, but we fought hard. And give some credit to Georgia. They are one of the four best teams in the country. I don’t want to play them again. That is the ultimate compliment I can give them.”
The Bulldogs dominated the first half statistically, controlling the ball for more than 20 minutes and scoring on three well-executed drives. Josh Jacobs, who was selected as the game’s Most Outstanding Player, kept the Crimson Tide alive, scoring on a 1-yard run, flipping field position with a critical 59-yard run in the second quarter, then pulling UA within 21-14 when he recovered his own fumble on the Georgia goal line with 2:18 to go in the half.
Alabama continued to struggle as the second half began and Georgia rebuilt its two-touchdown lead, 28-14, on a Riley Ridley touchdown from Fromm with 12:39 to go in the third quarter.
Then came the comeback.
First, Tagovailoa came up with his patented big-play touchdown, a 51-yard touchdown pass to Jaylen Waddle with 3:02 to go in the third quarter. Tagovailoa reinjured his ankle with approximately 10 minutes to play, however, and Alabama turned to Hurts, who led a 16-play, 80-yard drive capped by a touchdown pass to Jerry Jeudy with 5:19 to play.
On the ensuing possession, the Alabama defense stopped Georgia at midfield. The Bulldogs tried a fake punt on fourth-and-11 — a decision that will be discussed for years — and gave UA possession at its own 48. Five plays later, Hurts ran 15 yards into the Georgia end zone — and Alabama history.
“Give (Hurts) a lot of credit, guys,” said Georgia coach Kirby Smart. “This is a guy who’s been on the sideline and comes in and plays his guts out.”
Hurts finished with a 7-for-9 passing night, good for 82 yards and a score. Tagovailoa, clearly bothered by the ankle, was an uncharacteristic 10-for-25 with two interceptions and one touchdown.
Alabama (13-0) will advance to the College Football Playoff, learning its opponent and destination on Sunday.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225.
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