Last year the Alabama Crimson Tide beat the Clemson Tigers in a great National Championship Game. So when the two teams both made it back there this year, it was exciting to think that we might get another good game to decide the whole ball of wax again. But what we got was more then that. What we got was a classic that was right up there with Texas USC from 2005 or Ohio State vs Miami from 2002. This game had it all. It had the heavy favorite getting out to a big early lead. It had the plucky underdog coming back late in the half to keep it close. It had big plays. It had big hits. It had great defense. It had great offense. It had some great coaching decisions. If there have been better championship games than this one, there haven’t been many.
Clemson winning the game was just an added bonus. With Nick Saban finally losing a championship game, maybe now the mystique that he cannot be beaten is gone. Maybe now some other schools will rise up and give the Crimson Tide some competition and maybe the regular season will get back to being something other than Bama blowouts. So like clockwork the Tide has been that many fans probably turned off the TV and went to bed when it got to 14-0. Alabama just doesn’t give up two touchdown leads and it didn’t look as if the Clemson offense had anything going.
But late in the second quarter, Clemson through a simple little screen pass to the back up wide receiver Deon Cain, and he made some nifty moves and got free and run the ball into Tide territory. And at that moment the Tigers seemed to all of a sudden think they had a chance. That play sparked them and Deshaun Watson made a beautiful run down the left sideline for a touchdown to make it 14-7 and all of a sudden it was “Game On!”
The Tigers caught a huge break when Bo Scarbrough went down with a leg injury in the third quarter. Without him, the Tide’s running attack was not quite the same and it meant that true freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts was going to have to beat them by throwing the ball, something that the Tigers were hoping would be the case.
While Hurts made some really good plays, they had a very tough time converting third downs in the second half. Clemson was able to cut a 17-7 lead to 17-14 and then after Alabama went up 24-14, the Tigers scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to go up 28-24. Watson started hitting on some big passes to Mike Williams down the field and Alabama made some mistakes by getting some penalties they normally don’t make.
It looked for all the world like clemson had them on the ropes. It was third down and 16 and the Tide hadn’t converted a third down in forever. Hurts was flushed from the pocket and ran to the right sideline and throw a pass back towards the middle if the field. That had pick six written all over it but somehow it found its way to Ardarius Stewart for a 15 yard gain. Bama went for it on fourth down and converted and before we knew Hurts ran the ball up the middle on a scramble and scored the go ahead touchdown with 2:07 to go.
It looked like Alabama had done it again. So many times it’s looked like they were done, but somehow something happens and they get new life. Sometimes they aren’t even there when it happens such as the Arkansas-Ole Miss fourth and 25 overtime miracle by the Hogs that would have eliminated Alabama had they not converted. This time it was a play all quarterbacks are told not to do, throw late back over the middle, but it saved them.
Now all they needed was a stop.
But Watson would not be denied this time. He marched them down the field with some great throws to Jordan Leggett and Williams. It looked as if they were not managing the clock real well when they let time run off with two timeouts in their pocket, but as it tuned out they ran the clock to perfection, scoring on another touchdown throw to Hunter Renfrow with :01 on the clock. Renfrow came up with so many big catches in these two playoff runs for the Tigers he will forever be a Clemson legend.
Next year when ESPN replays this game in the lead-up to next year;s Championship Game, watch it again. It will be well worth it. Congrats to both teams for playing one fantastic football game.