In order to be the champions, you had to beat the champions. Mission accomplished for Clemson.
A historic rematch for the ages lived up to the hype thanks to a wild and career-defining fourth quarter that saw the Tigers win the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship Game in dramatic fashion 35-31 over Alabama.
The two defenses dominated the game early and often as many predicted given the number of stars on that side of the ball. Neither team found much success on third down (just nine combined conversions) and the passing game was inconsistent for both teams outside of a few big plays.
The Crimson Tide jumped out to an early lead behind the strong running of tailback Bo Scarbrough, who continued to abuse opponents with his punishing running style. He found the end zone early in the first quarter by scampering off to the left side of his big offensive line and finding pay dirt after 25 yards for the game’s first points. His second touchdown was even better than the first, using a few key blocks from his tight end and left tackle to hit the edge and scamper 37 yards for the score, running over a few defenders and carrying a few more on his back into the end zone.
Unfortunately the sophomore was injured in the third quarter with a leg injury, putting all the pressure on young quarterback Jalen Hurts. While he never looked too much like a true freshman, passing the ball was a struggle most of the night until he found a wide-open O.J. Howard for a 68-yard touchdown that had plenty thinking back to last year’s title game where he had a career outing.
That wasn’t enough to contain a determined Deshaun Watson in the final quarter however, as the signal-caller marched his team 88 yards in just six plays before leaping into the end zone for the first Clemson lead of the ball game with just under five minutes left. It was a vintage performance from the college superstar (who finished 36-of-56 for 420 yards and three touchdowns), which included several key hookups with receiver Mike Williams and a few key runs that moved the chains.
The Tide didn’t seem phased however, answering right back in a wild sequence of events. They broke out of their offensive malaise with a surprising trick play that found Howard for a big gain once again to enter Clemson territory. That’s when Hurts finally used his legs to find the end zone, scampering 30 yards to the goal line as he weaved and ducked out of numerous tackles.
Watson wasn’t done yet though, and saved his best for last with the game and his legacy on the line.
Facing a defense that was operating at a historic level coming into the game, Watson sliced and diced the Tide for a nine play, 68 yard march toward the end zone. With a make or break play coming up, the game’s offensive MVP dropped back and smoothly found ever reliable target Hunter Renfrow wide open in the end zone with just one second left.
That set off a wild celebration among the Clemson faithful as the school celebrated its second national title — and first since 1981 — in the sweetest of fashions. It was a game for the ages given the ending and tense final moments but will no doubt be remembered for an incredible drive that culminated in a championship for Dabo Swinney and the Tigers.