Alabama rolls to national championship in overtime victory

1/13/2018, 11:22 a.m.
The University of Alabama’s football team is made up almost entirely of players from the South, but there’s always room ...

The University of Alabama’s football team is made up almost entirely of players from the South, but there’s always room for a talented newcomer from far away.

Freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is a typical Crimson Tide athlete in that he is enormously talented.

What’s unusual is that the left-hander hails from Honolulu.

The Hawaiian became the unlikely star Monday night in Alabama’s 26-23 overtime win over the University of Georgia in the College Football Playoff National Championship in Atlanta.

In relief of starter Jalen Hurts, Tagovailoa rallied the Tide from a 13-0 halftime deficit and finished — in thrilling fashion — with a game-ending, 41-yard touchdown aerial to another freshman, DeVonta Smith.     

Overall, Tagovailoa was 14 for 24 for 166 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran 12 times for another 27 yards.  

Clearly, Alabama Coach Nick Saban strayed from his usual recruiting honey holes to scout and sign Tagovailoa.

“I really don’t know how Coach Saban found me all the way out there in Hawaii,” a cheerful Tagovailoa told the media after the game.

Actually, Tagovailoa was the nation’s No. 1 ranked dual threat quarterback for 2016 by various scouting services. He hails from the same St. Louis High that produced 2014 Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota.

Tagovailoa chose Alabama over UCLA and USC, among others.

Asked about Alabama, he said, “Everyone is very nice, very religious. About the biggest difference between Alabama and Hawaii is the beaches.”

Alabama, finishing 13-1, has won five national titles in the last nine years under the 66-year-old Coach Saban.

In what has been billed as the “Saban Decade,” the Tide has posted 125 victories over the previous 10 seasons in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

And there is little indication a decline is on the horizon. No less than six true freshmen played on the offense against Georgia. A total of 18 true freshmen played for the Tide during the course of season.

Alabama is less likely than most schools to red-shirt freshmen because its recruits are so ultratalented. Also, so many of the Tide stars leave for the NFL after their third year, creating vacancies for newcomers.

Alabama’s spring practices could be very interesting in a couple months.

Coach Saban has the enviable “problem” of choosing whether sophomore two-year starter Hurts or freshman Tagovailoa will be his No. 1 signal caller to start 2018.

Tagovailoa’s storybook performance in Atlanta — before a sellout crowd that included President Trump — had a happy ending.

To start the overtime, Georgia’s Rodrigo Blankenship nailed a 51-yard field goal to give the Bulldogs a 23-20 lead.

In overtime, teams start from the 25-yard line.

On Alabama’s first snap in the extra period, Tagovailoa was sacked for a 16-yard loss.

Could the freshman quarterback recover from such a grim situation? The football world wouldn’t wait long for an answer.

The next play, on second and 26 to go from the 41-yard line, Tagovailoa connected with Smith, who was streaking down the left sideline ahead of two Georgia defenders.

Smith caught the spiral on the dead run at the 2-yard line and sprinted, triumphantly, into the end zone as fans in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium erupted into cheers.

It was a Roll Tide celebration felt many time zones to the west, across an ocean, clear to the Hawaiian Islands.