ATLANTA ― Andy Pappanastos missed 2 field goals, and his team won. Rodrigo Blankenship made 3, including 1 from 51 yards in overtime, and his team lost.
Welcome to the wacky world of being a kicker.
Blankenship knows Pappanastos. All kickers know each other, really. But he didn’t talk to him after the College Football Playoff title game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. There really wasn’t anything to say in the immediate aftermath.
But Blankenship was feeling for the Alabama senior, who badly hooked a 36-yard attempt as time expired to allow the game to extend into overtime. And even that easy kick wouldn’t have been necessary had Pappanastos made the 40-yard try he had in the first quarter. He actually had hit from 35 yards right before, but the points were taken off the board because of a false-start penalty. Then he missed.
“I’ve talked to him before,” Blankenship said. “Specialists across the country, we try to be close and support each other. We all know the struggles and the trials and tribulations we go through on a daily basis.”
Blankenship has had them as well, but not nearly as many this season. After missing a 48-yard attempt in the Rose Bowl, Blankenship came back to hit a career-long 55-yard field goal as time expired at halftime. That brought the Bulldogs within 2 scores of a game they eventually won in overtime.
On Monday, Blankenship already had cashed in on two early opportunities from 41 and 27 yards when he was called onto the field in overtime. Quarterback Jake Fromm had been sacked for a 13-yard loss on third down, which left Blankenship with a 51-yard attempt. He got under it a bit, but it cleared the crossbar with a couple of feet to spare, right down the middle.
“I was just trying to do my part and give my team points when they needed it,” Blankenship said.
Coach Kirby Smart, once criticized for being slow to reward Blankenship with a scholarship, was not at all surprised the redshirt sophomore from Marietta, Ga., came through again.
“Fortunately we’ve got a good field-goal kicker who drilled it,” Smart said in the postgame news conference. “He had ice in his veins and made a huge kick that I’ll never forget to put us in a situation to have a chance to win.”
Blankenship didn’t launch into a wild celebration when his kick passed through. Instead, he turned his attention to defensive teammates, who were jogging on the field to try to stop Alabama one more time.
“I was saying, ‘Hey, guys, we’ve got this, this is our time,’ ” Blankenship recounted. “That’s really where my celebratory energy went, trying to boost up the defense.”
It seemed to work at first. On first down, quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was taken down by Jonathan Ledbetter and Davin Bellamy for a 16-yard sack. But second down resulted in a 41-yard touchdown pass. And just like that, the game was over.
“We just need to analyze it, take it for what it is and use it to be better going forward,” Blankenship said.
Despite the narrow loss in the championship game, there can be no complaining with the job Blankenship did this season. He finished his sophomore season 20 of 23 on field goals and as the school’s single-season record-holder for touchbacks with 67.
Meanwhile, Pappanastos had a mediocre season and a bad day. But he was the one celebrating with his team under the streamers and confetti Monday.
“The ring still fits,” Pappanastos said.
Correction: Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s last name was misspelled in the original post. DawgNation regrets the error.