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Alabama Beats Georgia In OT To Win College Football Championship

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The University of Alabama won the national football title again. It's the fifth time in a decade, and the game was dramatic. It began with some political protests and ended in overtime before the Crimson Tide beat the Georgia Bulldogs 26-23. Here's Ross Terrell of our member station WABE.

ROSS TERRELL, BYLINE: Before the game started, President Trump took the spotlight. He was greeted by protesters outside the stadium, including Isabel Hidalgo.

ISABEL HIDALGO: Basically, we don't want him to think he can just come here without anybody saying, we don't like you. We want you impeached. You're nuts. Get out of our town.

TERRELL: Inside, he stood on the field for the national anthem where he was met with applause and boos.

(CHEERING, BOOING)

TERRELL: But then it was time for the main event - the national championship game. It was a raucous crowd as the game began.

(CHEERING)

TERRELL: And Georgia jumped out to a 13 to zero lead at halftime. Defensive player of the game Da'Ron Payne says something changed in the Alabama locker room at half.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DA'RON PAYNE: I think we went in and Coach Saban told us that we needed to tighten things up. And I guess the team heard Coach and we came out and tried to play our best ball.

TERRELL: In the third quarter, Alabama head Coach Nick Saban rolled the dice and came up big. He benched their starting quarterback for a true freshman, Tua Tagovailoa.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NICK SABAN: I thought Tua would give us a better chance and a spark, which he certainly did.

TERRELL: Tagovailoa led the Crimson Tide to their first touchdown of the game about six minutes into the third quarter. UGA responded with a touchdown of their own, but Alabama scored the next 13 points of the game to tie it at 20 apiece. They missed a field goal that would've won it in regulation but instead finished the job in overtime.

(CHEERING)

TERRELL: Tua threw a game-winning 41-yard touchdown pass to fellow freshman, DeVonta Smith.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DEVONTA SMITH: I looked back out and he was wide open, so I hit him and now here we are now. Thank God.

TERRELL: It was the freshmen that helped win it all. That turned out to be the play and the story of the game. Alabama coach Nick Saban says he can't remember a time when they had to rely on so many young players to win a matchup.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SABAN: A lot of those guys are really mature for their age, and they were ready to make contribution. And they certainly did a fantastic job for us this year. There's no doubt about that.

TERRELL: With the win, Saban remains undefeated against former assistant coaches. He's now 12 and zero. This time, he knocked off Georgia head coach Kirby Smart, who worked with Saban for nine years at Alabama. The Crimson Tide claimed their 17th national title. For NPR News, I'm Ross Terrell in Atlanta.

(SOUNDBITE OF MENAHAN STREET BAND'S "GOING THE DISTANCE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.