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Alabama freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa appeared in just seven games this season and never started a game, serving as Jalen Hurts’ backup coming into Monday night.
And now he’s the Offensive Player of the Game in the national championship.
The poised freshman was inserted into Monday night’s showdown between Alabama and Georgia in the second half with the Crimson Tide trailing 13-0. He promptly led Alabama on the comeback trail, throwing three touchdowns passes to spark a 26-23 overtime victory.
Alabama’s talented defensive tackle, junior Da’Ron Payne, took home Defensive Player of the Game honors.
But the story was Tagovailoa, who was nothing short of superb, completing 14 of his 24 passes for 166 yards and an interception. He also rushed 12 times for 27 yards.
The moment that will live on forever was Tagovailoa’s game-winning 41-yard touchdown pass to DeVonta Smith in overtime after Georgia kicked a field goal.
In true freshman fashion, Tagovailoa took a 16-yard sack the previous play. But Tagovailoa wasn’t shook, finding a streaking Smith to hand Alabama its fifth national championship in the past nine years.
That throw caused Twitter to explode:
Candace Buckner @CandaceDBuckner
Tua, you a real one https://t.co/acV2GDW7pd
Andrew Perloff @andrewperloff
I know everyone is saying this, but that is one of the best throws I’ve ever seen by Tua. Feel like we’ll talk about that years from now.
Justin Ray @JustinRayGC
They’re building a statue of Tua in this parking lot tonight
Much of Alabama’s night was an exercise in overcoming adversity. Georgia dominated the first half, and Hurts couldn’t get anything going, finishing 3-of-8 for 21 yards while rushing for 47 yards. So Saban turned to Tagovailoa, who ultimately tied the game with a gutsy touchdown pass to Calvin Ridley on 4th-and-4 with just 3:49 remaining in the game.
The Crimson Tide then got the ball back on their own 35 with 2:50 on the clock after Georgia went three-and-out, and Tagovailoa led another drive down the field, setting up an Andy Pappanastos 36-yard field-goal attempt as time expired. But Pappanastos missed badly, and suddenly Georgia had life.
Rodrigo Blankenship’s 51-yard field goal on Georgia’s opening possession of overtime left Tagovailoa with work to do. But the phenomenal freshman was more than up to the task.
Tagovailoa will garner the headlines, but to Payne’s credit, he was dominant throughout in what may be his last game before embarking on his NFL career:
Tom Fornelli @TomFornelli
Every coach in the film room is obsessed with Payne’s performance tonight.
Dane Brugler @dpbrugler
Da’Ron Payne knows this is his final CFB game and he’s playing motivated with the most disruptive game of his career.
Payne went out in style. But Tagovailoa is just getting started.