Of the past nine college football championships, the Alabama Crimson Tide have competed in six of them. Following Monday’s victory over the Georgia Bulldogs, they have now won five of those six. In a nation of 129 Division I varsity football teams, it seems an incredible feat that one of those teams can be the best in the country six out of the past nine years. For Alabama coach Nick Saban, however, it’s all just run of the mill for him and his team.
After Saban’s Crimson Tide went scoreless in the first half of the national championship game, he was forced to face a 13-0 deficit, and just how does one do that? Apparently by pulling your starting quarterback, one with a 15-2 record, out of the game. Replacing the star Jalen Hurts with backup quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, a true freshman who had taken only a handful of snaps all season. The bold gamble seemed to pay off when Alabama scored the first points of the second half, with Tagovailoa throwing 4 of 5 in a 56-yard drive that put his team on the board with seven points. However, the outcome of the game became dismal once again when under two minutes later, Bulldog’s receiver Mecole Hardman took a pass from quarterback Jake Fromm 80 yards into the end-zone to put Georgia in a commanding 20-7 lead. Alabama would keep their hopes alive by nailing a 43-yard field goal at the end of the third quarter, reducing the deficit to 10 points.
Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, the fourth quarter was all Alabama. After Fromm was sacked on a crucial third down conversion attempt midway through the quarter, the Tide recovered their punt and drove over 70 yards downfield to pick up three more points with another field goal. Nonetheless, Alabama, failed to close the remaining seven-point gap for the rest of the game, until a pass-interference penalty allowed the Tide to convert a pivotal third down and nine around the fifty-yard line. With three minutes to go in the game, and the Tide driving steadily into the red zone, freshman Tagovailoa threw another short, seven-yard pass to receiver Calvin Ridley. Alabama kicker Andy Pappanastos sealed the deal with the extra point kick, tying the game at 20, and leaving Georgia without any answers for the remaining three minutes. After not scoring a single point in the first half, the Tide had rallied to force overtime.
In college football overtime, each team gets the ball at the opponent’s 25-yard line, and they get a single drive to attempt to score a touchdown or field goal. The other team then gets the same chance at the respective opponent’s 25-yard line, and is charged with matching the first team’s score, or topping it to win automatically, or instantly lose if they fail to at least match it. The Bulldogs were the first team to attempt their drive, but the Tide’s stout defense forced them to settle for a long field goal attempt, which Georgia kicker Rodrigo Blankenship nailed under immense pressure. Alabama then received the chance to either match the field goal, score a touchdown to win the game, or, of course, risk losing immediately if they failed to score. The outcome did not look bright as Tagovailoa was sacked on his first down, losing a massive 16 yards on a single play. Then, on the very next play, the freshman threw to receiver Devonta Smith, to score a touchdown and complete the comeback, stunning the Bulldogs and winning by a mere three points in overtime.
This was not only one of the best national football championship games in recent memory, but one of the best college football games in recent memory, period. With unexpected events like Alabama going scoreless in the first half, the Tide’s replacement of their star quarterback with a true freshman, and the game itself being decided in overtime, this is a contest that will surely be hard to live up to in the seasons to come, and stands as yet another milestone in the historic nine-year run for coach Nick Saban and his unstoppable Crimson Tide.