The Clemson Tigers handed Alabama their first loss of the year, compensating for last season’s defeat in the title game and coming home with the school’s second national championship.
By Evan Kolin (’18)
In a championship matchup that will go down as an instant classic, Clemson secured the national title on a touchdown with one second to spare, winning the contest in Tampa by a score of 35-31.
Just a year ago, both squads also fought for the 2015 college football crown, a game in which Alabama came out victorious via a 45-40 shootout.
But this time around, the Tigers redeemed themselves, fighting their way to defeat the supposedly “unbeatable” Crimson Tide.
As the game began, however, it looked as if Alabama was going to maintain their previously undefeated record. Running back Bo Scarbrough scrambled for two touchdowns, of 25 and 37 yards respectively, to give his team a 14-0 advantage with just over 10 minutes to go in the second quarter. The sophomore back was eventually carted off with a broken leg, though, an injury that severely hurt the team’s offense in the latter part of the contest.
Four minutes after the Tide’s second score, Heisman finalist Deshaun Watson cut Clemson’s deficit in half with an eight yard TD scramble of his own, and the two rosters entered the halftime break with the big screen proclaiming 14-7 in ‘Bama’s favor.
With the Tigers receiving the ball first to start the second half, the team hoped that this was their chance to knot up the scoreboard and take control of the game. But the fumble that ensued on that initial drive did just the contrary, as the Crimson Tide not only took away the football but all the momentum as well.
By the end of the third quarter, Alabama held a 24-14 edge. However, that momentum was about to shift once more, and the drama was only beginning.
The fourth quarter that followed was something you’d be lucky to see in a movie, a back and forth affair that kept eyes glued to the screen and analysts questioning if this was the greatest college football match of all-time.
Those final 15 minutes of football began with a Clemson drive that resulted in a Deshaun Watson to Mike Williams touchdown pass, the 11th time on the year that the pair connected in the endzone.
The inner stages of the quarter were quiet scoring-wise, but still kept audiences hooked to see who could put the next points on the board: would Alabama stretch their cushion to two possessions, or would Clemson place themselves in a position to win their first championship since 1981?
That answer would come 10 minutes later, as the Tigers took their first lead of the ballgame courtesy of a Wayne Gallman one yard pummel.
But ‘Bama didn’t respond quietly, as an emphatic Jalen Hurts 30 yard ramble gave themselves a 31-28 advantage that most thought they wouldn’t relinquish.
But instead, Deshaun Watson ended his exceptional college career in the most magical way possible: with a 68 yard drive capped off by a two yard TD to walk-on Hunter Renfrow that put truth to a tweet from five years ago.
The so-called dominant Crimson Tide defense let Clemson storm right down the field in the final two minutes, surrendering their chance at a second consecutive national title. Alabama was ranked the number one team all year long; that is, until the season’s final second. Only then did the Clemson Tigers boot them of that top spot, something no other roster has been able to do in over a full campaign.
Clemson had an up and down season that included a close win over NC State and a late loss at the hands of Pitt. But they came up big when it mattered most, playing their best football in the campaign’s final two weeks that also exhibited a complete obliteration of the Ohio State Buckeyes. And with that brutal defeat last year in the championship game, this triumph couldn’t have felt any better for head coach Dabo Swinney and crew.
“We set out to put Clemson back on top,” Swinney began in an emotional post-game interview with ESPN. “We came up a little short last year, but tonight at the top of the mountain that Clemson flag is flying.”
And in a world where we are so used to seeing the crimson and white of Alabama football waving success, it’s nice for a long-awaited change. It’s nice to finally have a new coach atop the college football world, someone other than the old and rigid Nick Saban from Tuscaloosa. This season, Dabo Swinney seized the opportunity to take that high seat. And next year, maybe it can be Jim Harbaugh’s turn, with that maize and blue flying high in the background.