ATLANTA, Ga. – A second-half surge, capped by a 41-yard touchdown in overtime, lifted the Alabama Crimson Tide over the Georgia Bulldogs 26-23 in the National Championship Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Monday night.
After 20 points from the Tide offense in the second half, a wide 36-yard field goal attempt from Alabama kicker Andy Pappanastos in the final seconds of regulation sent the game into Georgia’s second-straight overtime contest of the College Football Playoff.
In overtime, redshirt sophomore kicker Rodrigo Blankenship, who was 3-for-3 in field goals on the game, drilled a 51-yard field goal for the 23-20 Georgia lead. Junior Jonathan Ledbetter and senior Davin Bellamy picked up the sack of the Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa for a loss of 16 yards, but on the next play, the freshman hauled a 41-yard pass to a sprinting DeVonta Smith in the end zone to seal the Tide’s national championship.
“I think [Alabama] had a lot of momentum,” Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said. “I think they had a lot of juice, I think a lot of their guys believed in him. I think our guys were resilient, even with the momentum change. We kept fighting back, made some big, key stops, but even with the stops, couldn’t stop them in the end when we had to, and that’s what you have to do against good teams.”
Georgia recorded 13 wins in the second year of the Smart tenure, which ties the school record for most wins in a season. Freshman quarterback Jake Fromm led the Bulldog offense in the pocket, finishing 16-for-32 for 232 yards with one touchdown. He connected with sophomore Riley Ridley a career-high six times tonight for 82 yards, while senior Sony Michel totaled a team-leading 98 yards on 14 carries.
Junior linebacker Roquan Smith highlighted the Georgia defense with a career-high 13 tackles. In the first half, Georgia blanked Alabama, marking the fourth team this season held scoreless by the Bulldog defense in the first half (Florida, Tennessee, Appalachian State). The Georgia defense allowed only 94 total Alabama yards on 24 plays in the opening frame, forcing four Alabama punts on four offensive possessions after a missed field goal.
As the first quarter winded down, Michel converted two key third-down plays to extend the Georgia drive. On 3rd-and-20, Michel maneuvered the edge of the field, sprinting 26 yards down the sideline for the first down, placing Georgia on the Alabama 26-yard line. Blankenship capped the 14-play, 55-yard drive at the beginning of the second quarter with a 41-yard field goal, and Georgia claimed the 3-0 lead.
Another Alabama three-and-out returned the ball to the Georgia offense, and Fromm directed a 13-play, 70-yard scoring drive. The freshman from Warner Robins, Ga. used four different Georgia receivers in freshman D’andre Swift, Ridley, sophomore Mecole Hardman and senior Javon Wims for a combined 54 receiving yards, completing 4-of-7 passes. A 27-yard field goal from Blankenship provided the 6-0 Bulldog edge.
With 1:19 remaining in the half, the Georgia defense forced Alabama to punt, setting up a Fromm-directed 9-play, 69-yard drive. Michel took the direct snap with seven seconds left and handed the ball to Hardman, who rushed into the end zone for the 1-yard touchdown, the second of his career. The Bulldogs closed the half with a 13-0 advantage.
In the third quarter, Alabama struck first, completing a 7-play, 56-yard drive with a 6-yard touchdown pass from Tagovailoa to Henry Ruggs III, but Georgia responded on the following possession. At the 6:52 mark in the third quarter, Fromm tossed a career-high 80-yard dime to Hardman downfield, who shook off an Alabama defender to reach the end zone for the 20-7 Georgia edge.
Alabama pieced together a pair of field goals from Pappanastos to cut into the Georgia lead. On 4th-and-4, Tagovailoa found wide receiver Calvin Ridley in the middle of the end zone, followed by a Pappanastos kick, to knot the game at 20, and eventually send the game into overtime.
“This team’s not going anywhere,” Smart said. “The inches are everywhere. The inches that it takes to be a champion, they’re everywhere. They’re in everything. They’re all over the place, and we’ve got to get more inches.”