Alabama's DeVonta Smith pulls in the game-winning touchdown pass in overtime of the Crimson Tide's 26-23 win over Georgia on Monday night in Atlanta. It was a What just happened? moment for Georgia defensive back Malkom Parrish (14).
Jan. 9, 2018
For the love of Bear Bryant's hat, what a game.
Again. Instant Classic, Part III.
And Hale Hentges has been there every step --- and every snap --- of the way. He's been in these epic, down-to-the-final-second, national championship games three straight years.
2016: Alabama 45, Clemson 40
2017: Clemson 35, Alabama 31
Last night: Alabama 26, Georgia 23, OT
"It's an extreme honor to be a part of some of the best games in college football history, especially since it's the dawn of the college football playoffs," said Hentges, an Alabama junior tight end and 2015 graduate of Helias. "That makes it even more special.
"It's something I'll never forget and hopefully, I can tell my grandkids about it some day."
One classic? Sure. Maybe even two. But three straight? You can already hear the grandkids ...
You said lying was wrong, grandpa.
It's true, kids. Monday night may have been the best of all, as the Crimson Tide overcame a 13-0 halftime deficit to win in stunning, overtime fashion.
"It's hard to put into words what kind of night it was, what kind of atmosphere it was," Hentges said. "It was really surreal, getting down 13-0 and coming back and kind of taking over the game in the second half. It was something like I'd never seen before."
The mood in the Alabama locker room at halftime wasn't quite as festive.
"Half the team was probably a little dejected, like we didn't have a chance, Hentges said. "But then the other half, myself included, we were trying to rally people and saying: 'Hey, we were down by 21 last year against Ole Miss and we came back and won that one. So we've done it before, we can do this.'"
Then there was the "mood" of Alabama head coach Nick Saban. Let's just say he was animated with his comments.
"Coach Saban really got everyone going," said Hentges, who was in the game for 27 plays and caught one pass for two yards --- and was once again was a key blocker in the running game. "I've seen him at some extreme, fiery levels before, but probably nothing like this.
"But that's exactly what we needed, someone to get on our butts a little bit and tell us to get going. He still believed in us."
Alabama's offense struggled mightily in the first half, leading Saban to bench starting quarterback Jalen Hurts in favor of true freshman Tua Tagovailoa in the second half.
Even more interesting is the fact Saban didn't even tell the team the move was coming.
"We got out there (in the third quarter) and Tua was in the huddle and we were just like, 'Okay, let's go,'" Hentges said. "He brings a type of leadership that freshmen shouldn't be able to have, but he does.
"Ultimately, it was the right decision, and that just shows you again what kind of coach coach Saban is, to make that gutsy call to play a freshman who's hardly had any snaps at all --- and to do it in second half of the national championship game."
Hentges says Tagovailoa has been getting 'some work' with the first unit in practice, then added something that shouldn't surprise any of us coming from an Alabama player.
"Our twos (second-string players) are so good," Hentges said, "they're pretty much like the ones, because they're that good and they play all the time, anyway. We're pretty deep."
You could say that.
Tagovailoa was 14-of-24 for 166 yards and three touchdowns in the second half, and helped pulled Alabama into a 20-20 tie when Andy Pappanastos lined up for the game-winning 36-yard field goal with 3 seconds left.
He missed ... badly.
"That hurt a little bit," Hentges said, "but we weren't about ready to throw in the towel. We stayed hungry, we stayed confident."
After Georgia had taken a 23-20 lead on its possession of overtime, Tagovailoa --- after being sacked for a 16-yard loss --- threw the game-winning 41-yard touchdown pass to DeVonta Smith.
"Being in practice with him every day," Hentges said, "he makes plays like that all the time. This guy is unbelievable. I've seen a lot of quarterbacks play, but he throws one of the best balls I've ever seen. Catching his passes, I can tell you that."
When the pass dropped softly into Smith's hands, it was over. It was the only moment in this 3 hour, 50-minute slugfest Alabama had the lead.
Roll Tide!!! National Champions!!!
"It was pure elation and joy," Hentges said. "It was a bit of a shock ... you see him catch the ball and everyone's sprinting onto the field, it was pandemonium. We couldn't believe that that just happened, that we'd just come back from being down 13-0 ... it's something I'll never forget."
Hopefully, Hentges has a lot of room in the memory bank.
"This one meant so much more to me," Hentges after the Tide won their fifth national title in nine years. "I'm a member of the Leadership Council (a committee of 10 players) who make a lot of leadership decisions for us, so being in that role, it made me feel like I had more of a say with this team.
"All the work we went through, all the injuries we had --- a lot of people probably don't know this, but a lot of games we were playing with third-or fourth-string guys on defense (especially at linebacker) --- to overcome all of that and come out with this win, it's amazing."
Next up for Hentges, two things:
1. Back to class.
"That's the life of a student-athlete, it definitely brings you back to reality. You're playing a football game before 100 million people one day, then you go back to school the next."
2. Then, believe it or not, his senior season.
"I've had the time of my life, I hope this won't be the end of it and we can do it one more time. But it's extremely hard to believe, it's gone by so fast."
Time really flies when you're winning national championships.
Another classic: Hentges part of
third straight historic title game