There was a lazy Susan that served up a seemingly unlimited number of storylines heading into this National Championship. With both of these teams having faced off a year ago in this game, there was no doubt that these two teams were the best in the country. The game didn’t disappoint.
With Alabama having dispensed all of their foes by stifling their opponents defensively and doing enough with Jalen Hurts on offense, that formula nearly worked again.
In a back and forth game, Clemson managed to hang around on the periphery, refusing to be put to bed and giving themselves an opportunity as time began to wind down. For Dabo Sweeny and his Clemson Tigers, revenge was sweet.
Alabama opened the scoring and jumped out to a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter. With the Alabama defense giving Deshaun Watson fits early on, they managed to make the Clemson star look uncomfortable and disjointed as her attempted to mobilize what was normally a prolific offense. Down but not out, the Tigers came up big on defense, got the ball back in the hands of their offense, and something clicked.
Clemson scored on an eight yard quarterback keeper that capped an 87 yard drive.
The game went into the half 14-7 in favor of Alabama. In his halftime interview, Sweeny was oddly optimistic: “It’s 14-7. It’s a ballgame!” the coach said with a wry smile.
Clemson and Alabama came out of their tunnels again, their loins girded for the seesaw battle that was about to unfold. Despite getting the ball out of the break, Clemson would surrender two scores in the third quarter while managing only one touchdown. They were outplayed in the frame by three points, and trailed at the start of the fourth quarter: 24-14.
Alabama had not lost a game all season, they hadn’t blown a 10 point lead all season and Clemson was giving few signs to show that was in the works tonight. Already on the move from the end of the previous quarter, though, Clemson scored taking only one minute off the clock in the fourth. 24-21 in favor of Alabama.
With a number of punts, the teams traded field position with each other, each punter successfully pinning their opponents dip in their own territory with long, strategic punts. Clemson would have to piece together a 6 play, 88 yard drive, capped by a one yard touchdown run to give Clemson their first lead of the game. There was 4:38 left on the clock.
Then, according to Kirk Herbstreit, a legend was born. With only 2:07 remaining in the National Championship game. True freshman Jalen Hurts, only 18 years old leads his Alabama Crimson Tide into the end zone to regain the lead with 2:07 left on the clock. If Clemson was going to win this game, they would have to put together an efficient and effective two-minute drive against one of the best statistical defenses of all-time.
With 2:07 left on the clock, Watson and his Tigers used 2:06 capping the drive with a two-yard touchdown pass to Hunter Reinfrow to win the game. And just like that, the Tide was vanquished. Dabo Sweeny was redeemed and Nick Saban lost his first ever National Championship.
For Clemson, it is the end of an era. Deshaun Watson is headed for the NFL and the Tigers will likely undergo a rebuilding year, possibly more than one. Alabama will return a dominant team next season, lead by a more experienced Jalen Hurts. They will be the odds-on favorite to reclaim the National Championship.
Tonight belonged to the Clemson Tigers and the season ended with possibly its most fantastic game of the year. Impossibly good.
Clemson wins an instant classic: 35-31
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