The dynasty continues, and so do the droughts.
The Alabama Crimson Tide captured its fifth college football national championship in nine years and for the 12th time a former Nick Saban assistant came up empty against the record-tying Bama coach.
The National Championship Game that concluded the 2017 college football season was reportedly the most expensive ever. And despite ticket prices that reportedly topped $2,000, nobody’s seeking a refund.
Saban was moments removed from matching Paul “Bear” Bryant with his sixth national championship when he asked what everyone across the country already knew.
“Was that a good game or what?”
Alabama 26, Georgia 23 in overtime passed “good game” at the end of regulation. The meeting of Southeastern Conference rivals for the grandest prize in college football left viewers thinking “instant classic.”
Tua Tagovailoa came off the bench after intermission to lead the Tide to its 17th football title. His 41-yard pass to fellow freshman DeVonta Smith on second-and-26 was the game-winner and it was lights out for Georgia.
Bama wrapped up its fifth championship in the past nine years, the shortest span in which a team has won five titles since polls began in 1936.
Alabama, the favorite in Las Vegas but the underdog in the College Football Playoff seeding, trailed 13-0 at halftime and Crimson Tide quarterback Jalen Hurts was being outplayed by Bulldog freshman Jake Fromm.
At halftime, Saban made the call to the bullpen.
“I just thought we had to throw the ball in the game and I thought he could do it better,” the coach said. “He did a good job. He made some plays in the passing game.”
Tagovailoa completed 14 of 24 passes for 166 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. In so doing, he swiped the spotlight from Fromm, who was 16 for 32 for 232 yards, a touchdown and two picks.
“It was a team effort tonight,” Tagovailoa said. “It couldn’t happen without the defense getting us the ball back (and) our O-line blocking, working their butts off, as well as our receivers. They were the guys who made me look good tonight.
“Who would have ever thought I would be here right now in this moment,” Tagovailoa continued. “I thank God for that and I thank Coach Saban for giving me the opportunity.”
A year ago, Hurts had been the talented freshman who led Alabama on a final TD drive. His only mistake that night was leaving just enough time for Deshaun Watson to cement his name in Clemson lore.
“He just stepped in and did his thing,” said Hurts, who had been 26-2 as a Tide starting quarterback.
This year, Tagovailoa is the name everyone remembers, even if they can’t all pronounce it.
“I told them all we’ve got to do is execute,” Saban said. “We made so many mistakes in the first half. I mean, we were shooting ourselves in the foot left and right. I said if you just go have poise, focus and execute like we do all the time – that’s who we are – we’ll have a chance to get back in this game. The players believed it, came back and did a great job.”
Inspired by the revitalized offense, the Alabama defense returned to the form it displayed in vanquishing Clemson last week in their semifinal. Fromm-to-Mecole Hardman for 80 yards and a touchdown was Georgia’s only score in the final two quarters of regulation.
That answered Tagovailoa’s TD toss to Henry Ruggs III. But the talented Tide freshman QB would get a 7-yard TD to Calvin Ridley, and Andy Pappanastos would add field goals of 43 and 30 yards. But the Bama kicker missed his second 3-point try of the game, again hooking his attempt wide left as the clock went to 0:00.
Bulldogs kicker Rodrigo Blankenship threatened to steal the show, nailing a 51-yard boot to give the home team a 23-20 advantage. And Alabama’s fate seemed sealed when Tagovailoa was sacked for a 16-yard loss back to the 41 in overtime.
But that only set the stage for the first-year signal-caller to coax a safety toward the middle of the field, giving Tagovailoa just enough room for the championship-winning completion.
“They had split safeties,” he said. “I tried to look him off and he stayed inside. I took a shot downfield and (Smith) caught it.”
That play extended Georgia’s national championship drought. The last time the Bulldogs won it was in 1980, behind a freshman phenom named Hershel Walker.
But another drought was extended as well. Former Saban assistants are still winless against their mentor. Kirby Smart, the defensive coordinator for Saban’s prior four championship runs at Alabama, joined the losers’ club with Jim McElwain (0-3), Derek Dooley (0-3), Mark Dantonio (0-2), Will Muschamp (0-2) and Jimbo Fisher (0-1).
“We told our team this game wouldn’t be decided by past traditions or anything else,” Smart said. “It was going to be decided by performances that happened on the field.”
Said Saban after the game: “I’ve never been happier in my life.”