ATLANTA — Andy Pappanastos is off the hook.
Alabama's senior kicker failed on world’s stage at the worst possible time.
He could have been faced with a lifetime of thinking “What if?”
Pappanastos, the former Trinity-Montgomery star, missed badly on a 36-yard field goal attempt on the final play of regulation.
The kick would have given Alabama its 17th national championship.
But Pappanastos will not have to endure any of that.
He can thank a youth movement — and extensive one.
The first obviously begins with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.
Tagovailoa, who completed 14 of 24 passes for 166 yards, ignited a stagnant offense.
After being shut out in the first half Alabama rebounded with 26 second-half points for a 26-23 overtime victory over Georgia on Monday.
The game-winning play was a 41-yard connection from Tagovailoa to another freshman, DeVonta Smith Jr.
Heading into the game Smith had caught six passes all season. His seventh catch will be remembered for generations to come.
“When they called the play, I looked at Tua and I said trust me,” Smith said.
But Tagovailoa and Smith were by no means the only freshman stars.
Freshman running back Najee Harris led the team in rushing. It only took six carries for him to gain 64 yards, including a 35-yard run.
He did not have one carry in the first half.
Starting left tackle Jonah Williams left the game with an injury. Freshman Alex Leatherwood replaced him.
Montgomery’s Henry Ruggs III caught three passes for 29 yards and Alabama’s first touchdown.
Ruggs did not catch a pass in the first half.
Freshman receiver Jerry Jeudy caught one pass for 20 yards on Alabama’s late drive to tie the score at 20-20.
“This was one of our best recruiting classes this past year especially with offensive talent,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “Those guys played a lot this year and contributed a lot our success.”
So years from now, when the 10th or 20th anniversary of this team gathers in Tuscaloosa for a reunion, Pappanastos can look at his ring and wave to the crowd and cast a knowing glance to a bunch of 2017 youngsters that saved him from a gut-wrenching end to his career.
Brad Zimanek is the Montgomery Advertiser’s Sports Editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be followed on Twitter @bzimanek.