By Philip Johnson
Was that a game or what? The Alabama Crimson Tide and the Georgia Bulldogs put on a performance for the ages in the College Football Championship. The two powerhouses did battle in Atlanta on January 8th, and what a spectacle it was. A 26-23 overtime victory for the Tide delivered head coach, Nick Saban, his sixth National Championship, this being his fifth with Alabama. Several players delivered critical plays in this iconic game. For two teams that heavily rely on the run, all the headlines after the game were about the quarterbacks. Two true freshmen led their teams and turned what many thought would be a boring slugfest into one of the most exciting games ever played. While a championship game is always the focal point of a season, what happened in Atlanta was a classic that no one saw coming.
For the Tide, it was their sixth trip to the National Championship in the last nine years. Winning made them the fastest any team has won five championships since 1936! The Tide were coming off a dominant 24-6 revenge win in the Sugar Bowl over the Clemson Tigers. The Tigers defeated the Tide in the last second of last year's championship. For Saban, he would be facing off against one of his former assistants in Georgia coach Kirby Smart. However, Smart brought a better team against the Tide than any of Saban's former assistants. Unfortunately for Smart, Saban was 11-0 against his former assistants and this victory made that 12-0.
The Bulldogs were coming off a thrilling 54-48 win over the Oklahoma Sooners in the Rose Bowl a week earlier, and were making their first Championship game appearance since 1980. Smart, in his second year as head coach, rode his two headed monster of a backfield in Sony Michel, and Nick Chubb to the tune of a 13-2 record. But coming into the game, Smart and the Bulldogs knew that with Alabama’s stout defense they would have to put the game on the shoulders of Freshman quarterback Jake Fromm; who delivered a solid performance throwing for 232 yards and a touchdown. However, an errant throw on 3rd and 3 late in the fourth quarter gave the Tide the ball back, which lead to their game tying touchdown. “The big stage that Fromm was on might have gotten into his head,” said Glenelg football player Cory Wilson. With the loss comes the ends of the careers for Sony Michel and Nick Chubb who were statistically the second best running back duo in college football history. But with very impressive performances from running back De’andre Swift, Jake Fromm, and receiver Riley Ridley, things are looking up for the Bulldogs future.
Trailing 13-0 at halftime, Saban made the bold move to switch quarterbacks. Jalen Hurts, a Sophomore who was the starter and has a 25-2 record as the Tide’s QB was playing poorly and his run first mentality played right into the hands of what Georgia wanted. Backup Tua Tagovailoa was handed the reigns and proceeded to put himself in the annals of college football history. Some already knew Tagovailoa would be great. Glenelg football player Chris Barlow said, “I watched him in the spring game and he was the best player on the field.It was just a matter of time before he showed the world what he could do”. The left handed gunslinger from Hawaii threw for 166 yards and three touchdowns including the game winner. Midway through the 3rd, Tagovailoa faced a 3rd and 8 with the Tide desperately needing a score. He pulled a Houdini act as he scrambled to his right, broke four tackles, reversed field and ran for the first down. All the effort paid off later in the drive when he hit another Freshman, receiver Henry Ruggs, for a 16 yard touchdown. Late in the fourth quarter, on 4th and 4, he found Junior receiver Calvin Ridley in the back of the end zone for the game tying score. Tagovailoa was an afterthought coming into Monday night in Atlanta. But there he was, in overtime, throwing a 41-yard walk-off touchdown to DeVonta Smith.
The win gave Nick Saban his 6th championship tying him with former Alabama coach Bear Bryant for the most all time. However, almost anyone will admit Saban has now surpassed Bryant. After a season riddled with injury at every position, and being down double digits in the championship with a Freshman at the helm. The Tide still pulled through. College football fans have been spoiled the last few years with dramatic championship games and storybook endings. But what the Tide and the Bulldogs did in Atlanta will be remembered forever.