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Alabama's "zero to hero" year to win the 2018 college football title

Please find enclosed Alabama Public Radio’s entry for the best specialized reporter for sports, Pat Duggins. The University of Alabama college football team went from “zero” to “hero” during a tumultuous college football season, where the Alabama lost to its cross-state rival Auburn in the annual “Iron Bowl” game. That pushed the Tide out of the top four ranked teams where it had spent the year. Instead of being assured of a playoff slot, Alabama could only wait for a decision from the playoff committee on whether the team could contend for the 2018 title game in Atlanta.

Alabama was chosen among the final four, but the team had to face perennial competitor Clemson during the Sugar Bowl semi-final match in New Orleans. The Tigers defeated the Tide for the previous year’s championship. Even Alabama’s hometown newspaper predicted Clemson would beat the Tide in the Sugar Bowl. “We earned a butt whoopin’,” said Clemson head coach Dabo Sweeney following the Tigers loss.

That set the Tide up for the title game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, where Georgia led handily until the last four minutes of the game. Tide head coach Nick Saban elected to switch quarterbacks in the second half. Veteran Jalen Hurts was benched in favor of true freshman Tua Tagovailoa, who had almost no experience on the field. The rookie quarterback tied the game, which went into overtime. A pass to freshman Devonte Smith sealed the game, and the championship, for Alabama. The year rounds out with Alabama facing Georgia, again at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta—this time for the 2018 Southeastern Conference Championship. In a strange turnabout, the Crimson Tide came from behind to win, this time with back-up quarterback Jalen Hurts stepping in for starter Tua Tagovailoa.

Bama Sugar Bowl Win

The Alabama Crimson Tide are back at practice for this Monday’s national championship game in Atlanta. The Tide will face Georgia after the Bulldogs defeated Oklahoma in this week’s Rose Bowl game in Pasadena. Alabama won its slot in the title game by beating Clemson in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. This was the third time the Crimson Tide has faced the Tigers in a major game. And one football historian says it might not be the last time. APR’s Pat Duggins reports on how legendary Alabama coach Bear Bryant dealt the same coaches time after time, just as Nick Saban is now…

“We came here to win, and…just incredibly disappointed, in our performance. But, the credit goes to Alabama.”

What a difference a year can make. That was Clemson’s head coach Dabo Swinney talking with reporters after the Tigers lost the Sugar Bowl to the Crimson Tide. In January of last year, Swinney was basking in triumph after beating Alabama for the national title.

“You know, championship football is a game of a few plays, and you gotta make the critical plays, and we didn’t do that.”

But, Nick Saban and the Tide did… ‘I don’t think anybody can question the relentless competitive attitude that we played with…the warrior-like mentality out there," says Saban. "It was certainly was we needed.” But there were some flubs. Alabama went into halftime with a ten to three lead. Then, just fourteen seconds into the second half, quarterback Jalen Hurts fumbled the ball and Clemson recovered. That put the Tigers in position to score a second field goal, which was the last time Clemson got any points. One reason is Alabama defensive nose tackle Da’Ron Payne. He made a critical interception a few plays later, and then was sent out as part of the Tide offense.

Payne recalled an earlier chat he had with Jalen Hurts about catching a pass… “Jalen…all week…he was telling me, he’d throw it to me, and I’d better catch it," says Payne. "And I tried to make sure I caught the ball…” And catch it he did. Payne says Hurts wasn’t the only one he was talking about it… “I had been talking to coach lots about it," he recalls. "He said keep working, you might get it. I tried my best to practice and work hard, and they finally gave it to me…” That catch earned Payne defensive MVP honors. It was only his second catch, including one in high school.

The Sugar Bowl ended twenty four to six, and for a lot of fans…this win was payback for this…

“We beat the last seven national champions…all of them this year. I don’t know who Tweeted that out. But, I appreciate that little nugget.”

It was one year ago. Sweeney was addressing reporters inside Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. And one of those championship teams he was talking about was Alabama. That game cost Nick Saban the title.

“I think every loss is very painful. My loss is the bad feeling I have for the players who’ve worked so hard to create this opportunity for themselves, and to not be able to finish it, is very disappointing for me…for them.” This was the second match-up in as many years between Clemson and the Crimson Tide. Alabama beat the Tigers in Arizona in 2016 for the title. Tampa in 2017 was Sweeney’s chance for payback. The Tide led for the whole game. At least until the last four and a half minutes. That’s when a pair of penalties put Clemson within striking distance and then the lead. Da’Ron Payne drew an unsportsmanlike conduct call, followed by a penalty for pass interference against Anthony Averett. That did it. Clemson made the go ahead touchdown and never looked back.

“Just hats off to those guys. What an unbelievable champion they are…” Sweeney was being gracious in victory. The final score was thirty five thirty one with the Tigers hoisting the 2017 championship trophy. "What a fight. I mean…I don’t know if I can…I don’t know if I’m gonna be able to stomach watching that one anytime soon. That has to be one of the greatest games of all time.” Just as Sweeney savored the thrill of victory.

It was Nick Saban tasting the agony of defeat… “I think every loss is very painful. My loss is the bad feeling I have for the players who’ve worked so hard to create this opportunity for themselves, and to not be able to finish it, is very disappointing for me…for them.”

And win or lose, facing Clemson is something Alabama fans stand a decent chance of facing Clemson again in the near future. That’s the view of someone with deep roots in Crimson Tide lore…

“This is really a first time thing with Clemson," says Ken Gaddy. He runs the Bear Bryant Museum on the campus of the University of Alabama. He’s referred to Saban facing Sweeney in the 2016 and 2017 championships and then this year’s Sugar Bowl. “Three times in a row Dabo Sweeney, a former player, as their head coach. So, it’s kind of a unique thing going on here.” Unique, maybe. But not unheard of. However, you might to ask your grandparents about previous examples… We asked Ken Gaddy to put on his historian’s hat and look for examples when an Alabama football coach faced the same opposing coach again and again. He says it was a half century ago…in New Orleans…in the Sugar Bowl. “The closest analogy would have been the Nebraska ’66 Orange Bowl, 67’ Sugar. We split those. Bob Devaney was coach of Nebraska. We played Notre Dame two years in a row. Unfortunately, we lost both of those games.”

Gaddy says Alabama fans had better get used to seeing more of Dabo Sweeney. That’s because of the way semi-final games like the Sugar Bowl and Rose Bowl are structured. “Now, that the national championship is tied directly to those games, it may happen more and more as we go forward. Cause..is Alabama, is Clemson going to be in consideration for the national championship? So, this may not be the last time that they play…”

And fans of the Crimson Tide might want to add Georgia’s Kirby Smart to that list. Nick Saban and the team will face Bama’s old defensive coordinator this coming Monday in Atlanta for the national championship.

Bama defeats Georgia

The Alabama Crimson Tide hoisted its seventeenth national championship trophy last night. APR’s Pat Duggins reports it was a come from behind win over the Georgia Bulldogs that took the last few minutes, and a touchdown in overtime, to clinch…

If fans of college football wanted a nail biter of a game, the Crimson Tide and the Georgia Bulldogs didn’t disappoint, Alabama defensive back Tony Brown tried to make a statement early with an interception just a minute and a half in the game. After that, it was all Georgia with two field goals and a touchdown that left the thirteen to nothing at half time. Coach Nick Saban tried to shake things up by replacing quarterback Jalen Hurts with his back up Tua Tagovailoa. The change gave Alabama some spark, but it took until just under four minutes left in regulation for the Tide to tie the score twenty to twenty. Once in overtime, Georgia struck first with a field goal. Alabama responded with a touchdown catch by wide receiver DeVonta Smith to nab the title.

For some observers of the Crimson Tide, the fact that Alabama was even in contention for the title was a come from behind victory in and of itself. Things looked back in November. Alabama fell out of playoff contention following its loss to Auburn in the Iron Bowl. That meant Alabama would sit and watch as Auburn played Georgia in the SEC Championship. Tide fans who tuned into TV coverage of the game between Auburn and Georgia heard what you might call an omen, or just a mistake any broadcaster might make. The announcer said that "Auburn and Alabama" were playing for the SEC Championship. That blooper could have been taken as a sign that The Crimson Tide’s season might not be over just yet. The big break came the next day on ESPN as members of the College Football Playoff selection committee made their picks…

“We felt like we were on the outside looking in, you know," said Alabama tight end Hale Hentges and that it all felt weird… "Not knowing whether or not we’d be in the College Football Playoffs, or be fortunate enough to give these guys a run for their money.” But, as Alabama and Clemson arrived at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, the doubters were still there. Even the Crimson Tide’s hometown newspaper made a game day prediction that Clemson would beat Alabama by three points. Hale Hengtes was there when the Tide played Clemson the last time for the national championship a year ago. He says the end of that game still haunted him…

“I remember Clemson’s whole last drive. It felt like it was a ten minute drive, which it wasn’t. But, they were just making plays after plays, and everyone on that team was all bought it.” As the Sugar Bowl played out, it looked like Alabama was the one that was all bought it in.

“We earned a butt whipping tonight," said Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney. That summed up the Tigers twenty four to six loss to the Crimson Tide… “And the lesson is, again, championship football is a few plays and a very small margin of error," said Swinney. "And you have to be able to run the ball effectively, and take care of the ball, and we didn’t do those things tonight. And you’re not going to beat a good team like Alabama when you don’t do that.” Observers of the Tide say the team looked angry. Alabama Quarterback Jalen Hurts says the sting of the Iron Bowl loss followed the Tide to the Sugar Bowl… “You don’t remember the wins, you remember the losses," he said. "And, I think we never forgot what happened. But, we wanted to take it in as a learning experience. We wanted to learn from it. And, we had the opportunity to do that today and display it, and we got em. We’re going to the national championship game.”

BAMA WINS 2

JANUARY 9, 2018

THE ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE MADE A COME FROM BEHIND VICTORY OVER GEORGIA TO WIN THE SCHOOL’S SEVENTEENTH NATIONAL TITLE. APR;S PAT DUGGINS WAS AT THE MERCEDES-BENZ STADIUM IN ATLANTA AND FILES THIS REPORT…

LAST NIGHT’S VICTORY WAS SIMILAR TO ALABAMA’S 2017 TITLE GAME AGAINST CLEMSON. BACK THEN, ALABAMA LED UNTIL THE LAST FEW MINUTES OF THE GAME AND CLEMSON WON. LAST NIGHT, GEORGIA DOMINATED UNTIL JUST UNDER FOUR MINUTES LEFT IN REGULATION. THAT’S WHEN ALABAMA TIED THE SCORE AT TWENTY TO TWENTY. DURING OVERTIME, GEORGIA SCORED A FIELD GOAL AND ALABAMA RESPONDED WITH A TOUCHDOWN. HEAD COACH SABAN SAYS THAT LOSS TO CLEMSON HELPED FUELED THE TIDE…

“WE SAID DON’T WASTE THE FAILING IS THE LESSON WE ALL WANTED TO LEARN. AND I THINK THE RESILENCY THIS TEAM HAS SHOWN ALL YEAR LONG PROVED THEY SORT OF LEARNED SOMETHING FROM ALL THAT.”

THIS VICTORY MEANS NICK SABAN HAS EQUALLED THE SIX NATIONAL TITLES WON BY ALABAMA’S LEGENDARY COACH BEAR BRYANT..

Bama playoffs 2

December 2, 2018

Bama Playoffs 2_duggins_07209_NEWS.wav

The Crimson Tide will face Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl as part of the college football playoffs. APR’s Pat Duggins was at the Southeastern Conference title game over the weekend that sealed Alabama’s perfect season…

Alabama won—but it didn’t look like it would turn out that way until one minute before the end of the game. Georgia led the Tide until then. Things looked worse when Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa injured his ankle for a second time and was helped off the field with ten minutes to go. Back-up Quarterback Jalen Hurts took over, threw a touchdown pass to the score, and then ran for the game winning score. Head coach Nick Saban couldn’t say enough…

“He’s gone in the game, whenever we asked him to the game, and we played him as much as we could, so when this came up, he was gonna be ready.”

The move was a role reversal from what happened back in January, when Tagovailoa took over for Hurts and won the national championship over Georgia

Pat Duggins is news director for Alabama Public Radio.
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