TAMPA, Fla. – A year later, Clemson toppled Alabama.
Quarterback Deshaun Watson hit wide receiver Hunter Renfrow on a 2-yard touchdown pass with one second remaining to give the Tigers a 35-31 win in the College Football Playoff national championship game.
The touchdown on the nine-play, 68-yard drive came just after Alabama capped a crazy 68-yard drive of its own to take a 31-28 lead with 2:07 left. But Clemson responded mightily thanks to great catches by tight end Jordan Leggett and wide receiver Mike Williams to get the Tigers close to the goal line before a defensive pass interference penalty in the end zone put the ball at the 2 for the pass to Renfrow.
“It’s indescribable. You can’t make this up, only God can do this,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “… I told them at halftime that we’re gonna win the game. I don’t know how, but we’re gonna win it. It doesn’t even seem real to me. It’s been an unbelievable eight years.”
Clemson’s win avenges a 45-40 defeat to the Tide a year ago in the national title game. And it gives credence to Swinney’s comparison that the two college football heavyweights were like famous boxers Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali when he said Clemson was the only team capable of knocking off Alabama.
“Whoever is Ali, whoever is Frazier, it’s two great guys battling it out,” Swinney said Saturday. “That’s the way it is, and I love that. It’s never been easy. My entire life, nothing has been easy, and this is the way it ought to be. If we’re going to get it done, then we ought to have to play and beat a team like Alabama.”
Well, Clemson was Ali in this scenario. And it’s not too hard to draw parallels between Frazier’s and Ali’s two fights and Clemson’s and Alabama’s two title games. After Frazier won a 15-round decision in 1971 – the 45-40 game in this comparison – Ali beat him three years later. But it took 12 rounds for Ali to get that victory. And it took the Tigers 59:59 to feel comfortable about beating Alabama.
If we’re lucky, just like Ali and Frazier, maybe we’ll get a third matchup between Clemson and Alabama soon.
The victory in what was very likely Watson’s final college game fulfills a promise he made in 2013. The quarterback was a junior in high school at the time.
Me. In a National Championship Game. I'm just waiting on that moment.
— Deshaun Watson (@DeshaunWatson4) January 8, 2013
And one linebacker Ben Boulware made in August.
I didn't come this far to only come this far. Still think about this everyday. One last ride. See y'all in Tampa. pic.twitter.com/tym9juQGAa
— Ben Boulware (@benboulware7) August 1, 2016
After Clemson running back Wayne Gallman dove into the end zone with less than five minutes left to give the Tigers their first lead of the game at 28-24, Alabama got crazy on its subsequent possession.
Freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts scored what could have been the winning touchdown on a 30-yard run with 2:07 left. But with a passing game that had been suspect all night, Alabama had to reach into the bag of tricks a play before. Hurts’ touchdown was set up by a 24-yard pass from wide receiver ArDarius Stewart to tight end O.J. Howard. Outside of a busted coverage (again) that led to a 68-yard touchdown catch by Howard from Hurts in the third quarter, Stewart’s toss was the longest pass play of the night for the Tide.
The Clemson win breaks a 26-game Alabama winning streak and denies Alabama a fifth national title in eight seasons. It also means coach Nick Saban will wait at least another year for the opportunity to tie Alabama coach Bear Bryant for the most national championships (6) in college football history.
“I think they made some fantastic catches and some great throws and catches, and the last couple drives when they had the ball, and you know, we just didn’t make a play when we needed to,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “We needed to get a sack. We needed to get a takeaway. We needed to get a stop in the red zone, and they made the plays and we didn’t.”
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