Photo Credit: Sports Illustrated
On Monday night at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, the ACC champion Clemson Tigers avenged last season’s 45-40 College Football Playoff (CFP) national championship game loss to the SEC champion Alabama Crimson Tide with a thrilling 35-31 victory that came down to the final second of the game.
The scoring began with 9:23 to go in the first quarter, when Alabama running back Bo Scarbrough took in a 25-yard rushing touchdown to put the Crimson Tide up 7-0. With 10:42 to go in the second quarter, Scarbrough took in a 37-yard rushing touchdown to put the Crimson Tide up 14-0, giving them all of the momentum and making the game look like it could turn into a blowout.
Later in the second quarter, however, Clemson responded. Quarterback Deshaun Watson took in an 8-yard rushing touchdown with 6:09 to go in the second quarter, bringing the Tigers back to within a touchdown. The halftime score was 14-7, Alabama.
Alabama opened up the second half with a 27-yard Adam Griffith field goal with 12:25 to go in the third quarter to put themselves up by a score of 17-7. Clemson responded, as wide receiver Hunter Renfrow caught a 24-yard touchdown pass from Deshaun Watson with 7:10 to go in the third quarter to bring Clemson to within a field goal down by a score of 17-14.
Just when it looked like Clemson was starting to reel Alabama in, the Crimson Tide struck again, as quarterback Jalen Hurts connected with tight end OJ Howard for a 68-yard touchdown to put Alabama ahead by a score of 24-14 with 1:53 left to play in the third quarter. The third quarter ended with this score.
Clemson, however, was not done fighting. With 14:00 to go in the game, Deshaun Watson found wide receiver Mike Williams in the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown to make the score 24-21 Alabama. After five combined drives by both teams resulting in punts, Clemson capped off a 6-play, 88-yard drive with a 1-yard rushing touchdown by running back Wayne Gallman with 4:38 to play in the game to take their first lead, 28-24.
Despite both Alabama and Clemson failing to score on a combined five consecutive drives in the fourth quarter, Alabama responded to Clemson’s touchdown with their own. After a fourth down conversion and a trick play, quarterback Jalen Hurts ran in a 30-yard touchdown to give the lead back to the Crimson Tide, this time by a score of 31-28. The Tigers had 2:07 to kick a field goal to tie the game and send it into overtime, or to score a touchdown and win their first national championship since 1981.
Deshaun Watson led the Tigers down the field and into the red zone via spectacular catches by both Mike Williams and tight end Jordan Leggett. With first and goal from the Alabama 9-yard line, Watson chucked up a pass in the end zone to Williams, who was pushed to the ground by cornerback Anthony Averett, drawing a pass interference flag with just 0:06 to play in the game. This set up the Tigers with first and goal on the Alabama 2-yard line.
Instead of sending out kicker Greg Huegel to tie the game at 31 and send it into overtime, Clemson’s offense stayed on the field. The ball was snapped to Deshaun Watson, who looked and rolled to his right and found Hunter Renfrow in the end zone with 0:01 to play in the ball game for the go-ahead touchdown. Clemson had a 35-31 lead with one second left in the season.
On the ensuing kickoff, Greg Huegel kicked a short squib kick that turned out to be a successful onside kick recovered 10 yards past where he kicked it, giving the Tigers one play to kneel the ball down and seal the national championship, which they did, winning over the Crimson Tide by a score of 35-31.
The championship was Clemson’s second in school history and first since the 1981 season, when they defeated the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Orange Bowl by a score of 22-15. Deshaun Watson, who was given the Offensive Player of the Game award as well as the co-Most Valuable Player of the Game award along with linebacker Ben Boulware, finished the game with 420 passing yards, 43 rushing yards, and 4 total touchdowns against Alabama’s #1 ranked defense in the country. Meanwhile, Alabama was denied their second consecutive championship and their fifth in eight seasons.
This was the second consecutive season that Clemson and Alabama met to play for the CFP national championship game, marking the first time that the national championship game featured the same two teams for two consecutive seasons. It was also the second straight season that one teams entered the game with a 13-1 record, while the other entered with a perfect 14-0 record. Both times, the 13-1 team prevented the 14-0 team from becoming the first ever 15-win college football team in NCAA history. Last season, it was the 13-1 Alabama Crimson Tide preventing the 14-0 Clemson Tigers from becoming the first 15-win college football team in NCAA history. This season, it was the 13-1 Clemson Tigers stopping the 14-0 Alabama Crimson Tide from becoming the first 15-win college football team in NCAA history.
When it comes down to it, both Clemson and Alabama both played in 15 games this season. Not counting overtime, both teams were on the football field playing meaningful football for a total of 900 minutes (54,000 seconds). Being the #1 preseason team and never relinquishing that spot until this game and given the circumstances of how they lost, Alabama was the #1 college football team in the country this season for 899 minutes and 59 seconds (53,999 seconds). To be national champions, they needed to be on top for one more second. They could not seal the deal, and instead the Clemson Tigers are on top of the college football world after winning one of the greatest games in the history of NCAA football.