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ATLANTA — It was an all-time national championship game with an ending that will be replayed as long as the game of college football is contested.
The game was shaped by a few key plays, as is the case week-in and week-out, but in a national championship game, those plays are magnified. With that said, here are the five key plays that helped determine the Alabama’s Crimson Tide’s 26-23 victory over Georgia.
1. Freshman to freshman for the win
It looked bleak with Alabama facing second-and-26 in overtime going into the end zone of the Georgia fan section. Freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa had previously taken a sack that appeared to be the death knell of Alabama’s season. But Tagovailoa dropped back and hit fellow freshman Devonta Smith on a go route for a 41-yard, game-winning touchdown down the left sideline. Smith beat the cornerback by five yards and the ball arrived before the safety got over to make a play.
“When I saw we got the signal, I looked at Tua and said, ‘Trust me bro, and he nodded his head at me,’” Smith said.
2. Wide left
Alabama fans seemed to know it was coming, that when senior walk-on kicker Andy Pappanastos lined up for a 35-yard field goal at the end of regulation that the kick would miss the mark. Call it pains of past experience.
That’s exactly what happened, as Pappanastos’ kick missed badly to the left to send the game into overtime.
But his teammates didn’t blame him in the moment. They rallied around him.
“Probably more than winning the national championship, that means more to me,” Pappanastos said of the support.
3. Deep pass cuts
On the ensuing drive after Tagovailoa entered the game to start the second half and led the Crimson Tide down the field for its first points, UGA quarterback Jake Fromm launched a beautiful throw down the right sideline to Mecole Hardman, who beat UA defensive back Tony Brown cleanly for an 80-yard touchdown and a 20-7 lead.
The play momentarily snatched the momentum from UA and back to the Bulldogs.
4. Who was that to?
The game-tying touchdown was a throw that no one for sure knows who the intended target was.
Tagovailoa rolled left after receiving the snap out of the shotgun and threw the ball off his back foot. Calvin Ridley was running a drag route in the back of the end zone from right to left and freshman running back Najee Harris was coming from left to right. Both targets reached for the ball, and Ridley snagged it to help tie the game at 20 with 3:49 remaining in the game.
Alabama had the Bulldogs facing a 3rd-and-20 in the first quarter and Georgia ran a give-up play that seemed to signal its willingness to punt the ball. But Sony Michel took the draw handoff and tiptoed 26 yards down the sideline to continue the drive. Georgia eventually kicked a field goal for the game’s first points.
Reach Aaron Suttles at email@example.com or at 205-722-0229.