ATLANTA — Alabama's fifth college football national championship under Nick Saban was by far the most dramatic.
Rallying from a 13-0 halftime deficit and a 20-7 deficit midway through the third quarter, the Crimson Tide stunned Georgia 26-23 with a 41-yard pass from Tua Tagovailoa to DeVonta Smith in overtime before a crowd of 77,430 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Rodrigo Blankenship had given the Bulldogs a 23-20 lead with a field goal, which came on the heels of Alabama's Andy Pappanastos badly missing a 36-yard field-goal attempt on the final play of regulation that could have won it.
"I'm so happy for our folks and for our players," Saban said. "I'm happy for everyone."
Tagovailoa replaced a struggling Jalen Hurts at halftime and wound up completing 14 of 24 passes for 166 yards with three touchdowns and one interceptions. His 6-yard pass to Henry Ruggs III got the Crimson Tide on the board at 13-7 midway through the third quarter, and his 7-yard touchdown pass to Calvin Ridley with 3:49 remaining in regulation tied the game at 20-20.
Ridley's score came on a fourth-and-7.
The Bulldogs, meanwhile, were denied their first national championship since 1980.
"This has been an incredible opportunity for us," Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. "I can't say enough about our senior class. I think everybody can see that Georgia is going to be a force to be reckoned with. We're not going anywhere.
Georgia's biggest play was an 80-yard touchdown pass from Jake Fromm to Mecole Hardman with 6:52 remaining in the third quarter that put the Bulldogs up 20-7. Fromm completed 16 of 32 passes for 232 yards and a touchdown but was intercepted twice.
Fromm tried to become the first true freshman to guide his team to the national championship since Oklahoma's Jamelle Holieway in 1985, but that instead went to Tagovailoa, who played in eight games during the regular season.
"I found out at halftime that I was going to go in," Tagovaloa said. "This was a great team effort. I took a shot down the field at the end, and we got it."
Said Smart: "He definitely provided them some juice."
Hurts had a disastrous first half, completing three of eight passes for 21 yards and taking a sack.
"We had to do something," Saban said. "We just couldn't move the ball effectively. We had not been able to throw it effectively at all, and I don't think it was just all the quarterback. I think it was the whole group."
Georgia's first possession of the game ended when a bobbled Javon Wims pass from Fromm was snagged for an interception by Alabama defensive back Tony Brown at the Crimson Tide 36-yard line. Alabama took its first possession down to Georgia's 17, where a 35-yard Pappanastos field goal was negated by a procedure penalty.
Pappanastos then missed badly to the left on the 40-yard attempt, leaving the game scoreless.
Alabama went three-and-out on its next two possessions, which sandwiched a 14-play, 55-yard drive by the Bulldogs that culminated in a 41-yard Blankenship field goal and a 3-0 lead. On the game's first scoring drive, Georgia converted a third-and-3 when Alabama jumped in the neutral zone and a third-and-20 when Sony Michel went around right end and hugged the sideline for a 26-yard gain to the Crimson Tide 26.
The Bulldogs put together another lengthy drive — 13 plays for 70 yards — that resulted in another Blankenship field goal, this time from 27 yards out, for a 6-0 lead with 7:33 left before halftime. On their final possession of the half, Georgia drove 69 yards on nine plays and reached the end zone on a 1-yard run by Hardman.
Fromm opened Georgia's first touchdown drive with a 10-yard pass to Riley Ridley, and Fromm also had a 14-yard run and a 16-yard pass to Terry Godwin, with the pass to Godwin reaching the Alabama 3.
Georgia dominated the first half, amassing 223 yards while holding the Crimson Tide to 94. The Bulldogs converted 6-of-11 third-down opportunities in the first half, compared to just a 1-for-6 clip for Alabama.
"I saw some composure and a little physicality from the offense," Smart said. "We were doing a good job of running the ball. They are really big and physical up front, so they are hard to move, but our backs were running hard and our quarterback was making some good decisions.
"Our defense was getting the ball back for the offense."
Monday's game lived up to the hype, as the average pair of tickets were going before kickoff for $5,000 on StubHub.
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.