It was a night that even Tua Tagovailoa himself couldn’t have dreamed of.
The Saint Louis alumnus, who 13 months ago led the Crusaders to a state championship as a senior in Hawaii, rallied Alabama to a thrilling 26-23 overtime win over Georgia on Monday night in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game in Atlanta, Ga.
Tagovailoa threw three touchdown passes after replacing starter Jalen Hurts to begin the second half. All three were huge plays, but the game-winning throw, a 41-yard strike to DeVonta Smith, was the winner in overtime to give the Crimson Tide their fifth national championship in nine years under coach Nick Saban.
Tagovailoa was the offensive player of the game after finishing 14-for-24 for 166 yards and the three scores.
“They tried to disguise their cover 2 and when I dropped back I looked the middle safety inside on the third receiver coming over and I went back outside and Smitty was open,” Tagovailoa told ESPN’s Reece Davis after the game. “I took a shot and here we are now.”
Hurts was 25-2 as the starting quarterback at Alabama, but trailing 13-0 at the break, Saban decided to give the true freshman and reigning player of the year in Hawaii a shot to win Alabama the game.
“Tua did a great job, gave us a little spark,” Saban told ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi. “I just thought we had to throw the ball in the game and I thought he could do it better. He did. He did a good job and made some plays in the passing game.”
Alabama lost in the final seconds to Clemson in the title game last year. After missing a field goal to end regulation against Georgia on Monday night, Alabama allowed a field goal to start the first overtime to get the ball back.
Tagovailoa took a 16-yard sack on the first play before throwing the winning TD to cap the comeback.
“I’ve never been happier in my life,” Saban said.