People like to believe that the sequel is never better than the original, and they were wrong about the NCAA National Championship game between the Clemson Tigers and the Alabama Roll Tide. These two teams met in the previous National Championship game where the Roll Tide won a shootout 45-40 against the Clemson Tigers.
Clemson went into Raymond James Stadium with one thing on their mind: retribution. They were the underdogs against Alabama and their head coach, Nick Saban (a college football coaching legend who never lost a National Title game). As the game progressed, it became a defensive battle. Jalen Hurts, a freshman starting quarterback for Alabama, was not doing too much throwing the ball and the game ended up with a total of 19 punts, which was not what any of the experts thought would happen.
The first 20 minutes of the game were all Roll Tide as their sophomore running back, Bo Scarbrough, ran both a 25 and 37 yard touchdown to give Alabama a convincing 14-0 lead, putting the Tigers on their heels. Clemson then scored on a designed quarterback run with junior starting quarterback, Deshaun Watson to cut Alabama’s lead 14-7 going into halftime.
Alabama had the ball to begin the second half and made a field goal to increase their lead 17-7 with 12:25 remaining in the third quarter. Then, sophomore wide receiver Hunter Renfrow caught a twenty-four yard pass for a touchdown to make it 17-14 with 7:10 left in the third quarter. Alabama managed to add another seven points to their score before the quarter ended with a 68 yard pass from Hurts to senior tight end OJ Howard to make it 24-14.
Clemson had their backs against the wall going into the fourth quarter and open up scoring on a four-yard pass to Mike Williams, a junior wide receiver, to make it 24-21 Alabama with 14:00 left in the fourth quarter. With under five minutes remaining, junior running back Wayne Gallman ran for a one-yard touchdown to give the Tigers their first lead of the night, 28-24. Alabama drove right back down the field and scored on a thirty-yard Jalen Hurts run to take the lead 31-28 with 2:07 left in the fourth.
Clemson needed a field goal to extend the game into overtime, but with three timeouts remaining and two minutes on the clock, they had enough time to make a significant drive happen. Potentially the most crucial play of the entire game was when it was second down and goal and Deshaun Watson threw it to the endzone for Mike Williams and a flag was thrown at the two-yard line. Pass Interference was called for contact by the defensive player to early and college football awards that by moving the offensive team to the spot of the foul. With enough time for one more play to win the game before having to elect to kick a field goal and try their luck in overtime, Watson rolls to his right outside of the pocket and throws it to Renfrow for a two-yard touchdown with only one second remaining in the game to take the lead 34-31 and win the NCAA Division I National Championship.
Clemson Head Coach Dabo Swinney said this after the game to ESPN, “That has to be one of the greatest games of all time,” and he was not wrong about that. He followed by stating “There was no upset tonight, that’s the last thing I told them when we left the locker room. I said, `When we win the game tonight I don’t want to hear one word about this being an upset. The only upset is going to be if we don’t win the dadgum game.”
The final stat line for Clemson quarterback Watson was 36 for 56, 420 yards, 3 touchdowns, 21 carries, 43 yards, 1 touchdown as he took home the Offensive MVP award for the game in his final collegiate game of his career.
“I was calm, [I told the team] let’s go be great,” were what Watson said when asked about how he was feeling during the play that resulted in claiming the second National Championship in Clemson’s history.
Alabama was 4-0 going into the game with Saban coaching the National Championship, 106-6 when leading after halftime, and 96-0 when leading after three quarters. Clemson overcame all of those. As the great Al Michaels once proclaimed, “Do you believe in miracles?”