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ATLANTA — A beautiful throw for a storybook ending.
Alabama’s 26-23 overtime victory over Georgia in the College Football Playoff Championship Game was far from perfect, but the very last play in Mercedes-Benz Stadium was flawless. After having just been sacked, quarterback Tua Tagovailoa sent a 41-yard prayer to fellow true freshman DeVonta Smith as he made his way down the left sideline to the end zone.
“I was just like catch it,” Smith said, “and we win.”
And boy, did Alabama win. The Crimson Tide secured its 17th national championship title with that overtime bomb. It accomplished something that seemed to be slipping away by halftime.
The Crimson Tide trailed 13-0 after the first two quarters. Its offense produced a measly 94 total yards compared to Georgia’s 223. There was no rhythm, no groove in which to to be settled.
“We have to do something,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said at halftime.
Oh, he did. Saban pulled starting quarterback Jalen Hurts and tossed Tagovailoa in the spotlight.
Hurts started every game this season. Tagovailoa had played in eight of Alabama’s 13 prior games, but never with the outcome o the line. This was big.
“We just can’t move the ball effectively,” Saban said at halftime. “We haven’t been able to throw it effectively at all, and I don’t think it’s just all the quarterback. I think it’s the whole group.”
Well, perhaps. But the fact remains that Hurts wasn’t helping the situation. Through two quarters, Hurts completed 3 of 8 passes for 21 yards. He also carried the ball six times for 47 yards.
“I was there for my team,” Hurts said. “Very supportive, like he has been for me all year.”
The first thing Tagovailoa did as the Crimson Tide’s master was run for 4 yards on his own. He then hit UA tight end Hale Hentges with a 2-yard pass. On third and four, Tagovailoa was sacked for a loss of 4 yards.
Alabama went three-and-out to open the second half with Tagovailoa, something Hurts did three times in the first half.
That was just a warm-up. Tua time.
“Everybody was saying one thing,” Smith said. “It’s ain’t over until the last whistle.”
The next drive, Tagovailoa moved Alabama down the field. His first move was a deep shot to wide receiver Calvin Ridley, but he threw just a little too far. That didn’t end up mattering because six plays later, Tagovailoa connected with wide receiver Henry Ruggs III for a 6-yard touchdown pass.
Hurts was one of the first people to find Tagovailoa in celebration.
“I love you,” the veteran told the rookie. “This is what you were made for.”
He was made to complete 14 of his 24 passes for 166 yards and to run for 27 yards on 12 carries. He was also made to throw an interception, because nobody is perfect.
Most importantly, Tagovailoa was made to throw that dime of a pass to Smith in the end zone and win the biggest game of the season for the Crimson Tide.
“I was surprised he threw it, but he threw it,” Hurts said. “He made the play.”