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It did not take long for it to feel like it might be Clemson’s night.
The Tigers lost two of their three meetings with mighty Alabama in the College Football Playoff previously, including a semifinal loss last season where they were completely overwhelmed.
On Alabama’s third offensive play, A.J. Terrell intercepted a Tua Tagovailoa pass and returned it 44 yards for a score. That play set the tone in what ended up being a convincing 44-16 victory that gave Dabo Swinney his second national championship as Clemson head coach.
Here the biggest plays that helped propel Clemson to its third national championship in program history.
A.J. Terrell’s pick six
On Alabama’s very first drive, Tagovailoa fired two perfect passes for 20 total yards on the Tide’s first two plays. But on the third play, the Clemson defense confused the Heisman runner-up.
Tagovailoa looked left toward wide receiver Jerry Jeudy near the sideline when Terrell read Tagovailoa’s eyes and came off his man. He stepped in front of Tagovailoa’s pass and took it 44 yards for a touchdown, giving the Tigers a 7-0 lead just 1:40 into regulation.
Tua Tagovailoa’s second interception
Tagovailoa quickly put the interception behind him and fired a beautiful 62-yard touchdown pass to Jeudy on the Tide’s next possession to tie the score at 7-7.
At that point, the game was the back-and-forth competitive affair most expected. Clemson held a 14-13 advantage after one quarter and the lead was 21-16 early in the second quarter. That’s when Tagovailoa made his second critical error of the evening.
This time, he was fooled by a Cover 3 look from Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables. Instead of staying in the flat like Tagovailoa anticipated, Clemson corner Trayvon Mullen dropped back and played the deep ball. He saw Tagovailoa was throwing deep and was there to intercept the pass.
Mullen returned the interception to midfield, setting up the next Clemson touchdown that extended the lead to 28-16.
The Tigers would never look back.
Clemson stops Alabama’s fake field goal
Trailing 31-16, Alabama started the third quarter on offense and quickly advanced into Clemson territory. However, the Clemson defense forced a fourth-and-six from the 22-yard line. Instead of attempting a field goal, Alabama called for a fake.
Clemson had it sniffed out from the beginning.
The ball was snapped to holder Mac Jones, the third-string quarterback. He quickly rose from a knee and tried to follow his lead blocker — kicker Joseph Bulovas — upfield. Clemson’s Nyles Pinckney fought off his blockers and made the clutch stop.
Three plays later, Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence hit Justyn Ross for a 74-yard catch-and-run touchdown. Alabama defensive back Saivon Smith was injured as Ross made his break off the line. Lawrence found Ross wide open, he made one man miss and broke into the secondary for a touchdown.
That extended Clemson’s lead to 37-16 with 8:26 left in the third quarter.
Justyn Ross’ one-handed catches
Even with Clemson firmly in control, it was far too early to count out Alabama’s explosive offense. But Lawrence and Ross would not let the ball go back to Tagovailoa and the Tide.
After Clemson’s defense stuffed Alabama’s offense on a fourth down in the red zone, the Tigers faced third-and-12 from the 25. Lawrence, a true freshman, stood tall with pressure in his face and delivered a ball toward Ross near the sideline.
Ross, a five-star true freshman from Alabama, hauled in an unbelievable one-handed catch to keep the drive going and keep the ball out of Tagovailoa’s hands.
And Ross wasn’t finished yet. Three plays later, on another third down, Ross made another ridiculous one-handed grab for a first down.
That drive would be capped off by a five-yard Tee Higgins touchdown, again on third down. That score made Clemson’s lead 44-16 to totally put the game out of reach.
Clemson stuffs Tua at the goal line
Even down four scores, Alabama kept fighting. Tagovailoa hit Jeudy for a 48-yard gain and then found Jaylen Waddle for a 19-yard play to set up a first-and-goal.
Damien Harris went seven yards on first down to advance the Tide to the one-yard line. From there, Harris was stuffed for no gain on second down and then for a loss of one on third down.
On fourth down, the Tide dialed up a designed run for Tagovailoa. It went nowhere. Clelin Ferrell chased it down for a loss.
It was the third straight turnover on downs forced by Clemson, and the final nail in the coffin for the Crimson Tide.
More CFP title game coverage from Yahoo Sports:
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• Alabama’s fake field goal fails spectacularly
• Clemson trounces Alabama to win national championship