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Tagovailoa leads Alabama to national championship

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa held up the championship trophy after beating Georgia in overtime.

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa celebrated with his parents Galu and Diane after the game.

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa dropped back to pass during the second half against Georgia.

ATLANTA >> Former Saint Louis quarterback Tua Tagovailoa threw three touchdowns to help Alabama beat Georgia 26-23 in overtime to win tonight’s College Football Playoff national championship game.

Tagovailoa connected on a 41-yard pass to DeVonta Smith for the game winner in OT.

“It was a team effort tonight,” Tagovailoa, who led Saint Louis to the 2016 state title, said during the TV interview on the field. “Our O-line blocked … they were the guys that made me look good.”

“Tua gave us a little spark,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said.

On his decision to replace an ineffective Jalen Hurts at quarterback, Saban said, “We had to throw the ball. I thought he (Tagovailoa) could do it better.”

After Alabama kicker Andy Pappanastos missed a 37-yard field goal that would have won it for the Tide (13-1) in the final seconds of regulation, Georgia (13-2) took the lead with a 51-yard field goal from Rodrigo Blankenship in overtime.

Tagovailoa took a terrible sack on Alabama’s first play of overtime, losing 16 yards. On the next play he found Smith, another freshman, and hit him in stride for the national championship.

“After the sack, we just got up and took it to the next play,” said Tagovailoa, who finished 14 for 24 for 166 yards. “I looked back out, and he was wide open. Smitty was wide open.”

Tagovailoa replaced Hurts to start the second half and led Alabama to two touchdowns and two field goals to bring the Crimson Tide back from a 13-0 halftime deficit. Hurts had gone just 3-for-8 passing for 21 yards in the first half while running for 47 yards.

Tagovailoa threw a 7-yard touchdown on a fourth-and-4 play with 3:49 left to tie the game at 20-20. The play came after Georgia’s Roquan Smith and Trenton Thompson stuffed Damien Harris for a 1-yard loss on third down.

Tagovailoa, a five-star recruit, had played in eight games this season. Most of his action came in mop up duties, and Alabama went three-and-out on his first drive.

The lefty was far more successful on drive No. 2. Tagovailoa passed and ran the Tide to its first score of the game, a 6-yard touchdown to fellow freshman Henry Ruggs III.

He converted a third-and-7 play with a nifty run. He ran right and, with three Georgia defenders around him, reversed field and scampered for a first down on the TD drive.

On his third drive, Tagovailoa’s up and down start continued. He threw an interception in Alabama territory.

Coming into the game, Tagovailoa had completed 35 of 53 passes for 470 yards with eight touchdowns against one interception.

Tagovailoa, who graduated from Saint Louis in December 2016, holds the state’s passing record and is the highest-rated quarterback ever to come out of Hawaii.

He finished his high school career with 8,158 passing yards and 84 touchdowns and another 1,727 rushing yards and 27 scores to give him 111 career TD’s.

Hurts was the Southeastern Conference offensive player of the year as a freshman last season and has thrown only one interception all season. But he struggled in a loss to Auburn in the regular season and played better in the Sugar Bowl against Clemson but still passed for just 120 yards.

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