In a game that literally came down to the final second, the Clemson Tigers extinguished a 35-year National Championship drought with a go-ahead touchdown reception by Hunter Renfrow off the arm of Deshaun Watson. The Tigers, the best team that the ACC had to offer, slayed the mighty Alabama Crimson Tide of the SEC, winning 35-31 and handing the Tide their only loss of the season.
Despite building up a 10-point lead entering the game’s final quarter, Watson and the Tigers would not be denied. An epic fourth quarter saw Clemson score three touchdowns, two off the arm of their uber-talented junior quarterback while the other came off the feet of stud running back Wayne Gallman. The 21 points scored surpassed the 14 they had through the first three quarters as Alabama’s notably stout defense sprung a leak that Clemson pounced on.
It appeared as though Alabama would have an answer for Clemson’s late heroics on what turned out to be their final drive of the game. A fantastic catch by ArDarius Stewart and a double pass call by new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian set the stage for SEC Freshman of the Year Jalen Hurts. Hurts, mired by meager play through the first three quarters, sprinted for paydirt and got there on a 30-yard rushing touchdown that put his Tide up 31-28.
However, it was not to be as Clemson would march back down the field towards their eventual, aforementioned go-ahead score. The final drive for Watson and his bunch was heavily featured by Renfrow, the hero of the night, and Mike Williams who put together a dazzling performance in spite of being banged up. Williams caught eight passes, amassed 94 yards and scored a touchdown early on in the fourth quarter.
Renfrow’s last second touchdown was his second of the night after a 24-yard TD reception went down early in the third quarter. Watson could be credited with four of the five touchdowns scored as he picked up a rushing touchdown in the second quarter.
Alabama running back Bo Scarbrough dominated the early goings of the game, scoring on rushing touchdowns of 25 and 37 yards to build up a 14-0 first quarter lead.
Scarbrough finished with 93 yards on 16 carries and the aforementioned two touchdowns but left the game due to injury.
‘Bama’s “secret weapon” in last year’s title game - O.J. Howard - found a way to make an impact again. Howard caught four passes, one going for 68 yards and a touchdown on a busted play that put the Tide up 24-14 in the third quarter before things eventually came crashing down.
Needless to say, this was one of the best National Championship games in quite some time. Already, people are leveling it up to the 2006 Rose Bowl as far as dramatics and theatrics. It’s tough to measure up anything to that classic in Pasadena, mostly due to a lot of the outside implications of the game (USC going for a three-peat, a Heisman winner on one side with a ‘snub’ on the other, the Trojans’ lengthy winning streak being in play and ESPN touting them as the ‘best team ever’) but this was certainly a case where the sequel was better than the first installment in 2015.
Alabama has nothing to truly hang their heads for. The Crimson Tide are still in the midst of a dominant run in the world of college football and they’ll likely be the favorite to win it all in 2017. Clemson, meanwhile, deserves a heaping of praise for getting back to this point and winning this time around. Watson leaves Clemson as one of their best quarterbacks ever - if not the best - and with a five-star quarterback in waiting, the Tigers should still be a huge threat in the ACC even with the departure of Watson and Williams among others.