ATLANTA — It’s doubtful that anyone at Mercedes-Benz Stadium exhaled as deeply as Alabama kicker Andy Pappanastos when Tua Tagovailoa’s 41-yard overtime touchdown pass fell into the hands of wide receiver DeVonta Smith.
Minutes before Smith’s catch gave Alabama a 26-23 national championship win over Georgia, Pappanastos had the chance to be the hero. As Alabama drove down the field with seconds remaining in the fourth quarter and the game tied 20-20, the offense centered the ball at the 17-yard-line with three seconds left for Pappanastos.
The task was relatively straightforward. If the 36-yard field goal goes through the uprights, Alabama has its fifth championship in the past nine years and Pappanastos is a statewide legend for the rest of his life. If it doesn’t, well, Alabama is at least heading to overtime with another chance to win the game.
The kick didn’t go through. It didn’t even come close.
As Pappanastos left the field he was embraced by his teammates. And he had one thought going through his mind.
“That I’m going to get another chance, honestly,” he told Yahoo Sports. “My teammates, [punter JK Scott], the entire offensive line wrapped their arms around me and said we got you, don’t worry about it.”
He never got that chance thanks to Smith’s touchdown catch. But Pappanastos isn’t going to quibble with that fact.
“Relieved. Just excited man,” he said. “I’m going to look back on this in how many ever years and this can be about the national championship. It’s not going to be about a missed field goal.”
Pappanastos entered last week’s Sugar Bowl against Clemson a perfect 12-12 on field goals shorter than 40 yards. But he missed a 38-yard field goal against the Tigers, clanging the ball off the left upright after it first looked like it was heading straight between the goal posts.
The hook returned with a vengeance Monday night. He drilled a 35-yard field goal in the first quarter but the kick was waived off because of a false start penalty. The ensuing 40-yard attempt missed wide to the left.
But in between his first kick and his last, Pappanastos hit two field goals in the third quarter. The hook was gone. At least for a bit, until it was back again on what could have been the biggest field goal of the 2017 college football season.
And it still might have been — for all the wrong reasons — had the pass to Smith fallen incomplete. Alabama was out of field-goal range before the second-down play thanks to an ill-advised sack Tagovailoa took on Alabama’s first play of the overtime period. Had Georgia gotten a stop, the “what if?” question could have haunted Pappanastos and Alabama fans for years.
“It’s a tough job,” Pappanastos said. “It’s something I’ve really enjoyed this year. There’s a lot of pressure at this place. Pressure is only created by opportunity and we had the opportunity to play in this game last year — I’m just really glad we were able to end up getting the win. That was really important to me. The whole kicking, missing field goals. It’s going to happen. I just hate it happened in this situation. But I’m so relieved and so excited for everyone in the locker room that we got the win.”
More from Yahoo Sports:
• Alabama stuns Georgia in overtime 26-23 to win national title
• How ‘Hawaiian Tebow’ Tua Tagovailoa became an Alabama legend
• Alabama wins national title over Georgia: Sports world reacts
• Alabama OL Bradley Bozeman wins title, immediately proposes to girlfriend
• Controversial missed calls helped Alabama’s comeback over Georgia
• Protests, long lines, cheers and boos greet Trump at championship game
– – – – – – –