Clemson Tigers defeat Alabama Crimson Tide 35–31 to clinch the College Football Playoff winning title
TAMPA — For the second time in two years, the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Clemson Tigers met in the College Football Playoff final. This year, however, the Tigers were able to avenge last year’s defeat with a touchdown at the death. With their last second winner, Clemson broke Alabama’s stranglehold on the national title, defeating the Tide by a score of 35-31.
The 2016 final had also seen the number two seed take down number one, but in reality both matches were dramatic finales between evenly matched teams. In that game, momentum swung back and forth until the fourth quarter, when Alabama pulled ahead for good. While there were nervy moments for coach Nick Saban’s team, the outcome was in little doubt after Kenyan Drake’s kickoff return. The 2017 rematch, however, would provide twists and turns right until the final whistle.
In the third edition of the College Football Playoff, the champions of the Southeastern Conference and Atlantic Coast Conference made short work of their semifinal opponents. After a cagey start, the undefeated Crimson Tide saw off number four Washington with little fuss. The Tide defence, widely regarded as one of the best college defences of all time, shut out the Huskies’ for the final three-quarters, rolling to a 24-7 win.
The Tigers faced even less resistance from Ohio State, shutting down the Buckeyes completely. Clemson, whose only loss this season was an upset to Pittsburgh in November, scored a touchdown in every quarter on their way to a 31-0 pasting. With one of Clemson’s greatest ever players, quarterback Deshaun Watson, in red-hot form, the stage was set for the rematch between the Tiger offence and Alabama’s vaunted defence.
Saban had never lost a national title game, with four wins as head coach of Alabama adding to his first victory with Louisiana State University in 2003. He and Alabama were attempting to make history with five national titles in eight years, but Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, an Alabama native and former Tide player and coach, had other ideas.
The start of the game went as many had predicted it would, with Alabama’s defense smothering the Clemson offense. Some late hits on Watson and his receivers seemed to rattle the usually unflappable quarterback. It was no surprise when Alabama running back Bo Scarbrough rattled off a 25-yard run to open the scoring in the first quarter, and a 37-yarder to extend ‘Bama’s lead to 14-0 in the second.
Clemson’s offence got the team back into the game, with a touchdown cutting Alabama’s lead to seven by halftime. The Tide increased their lead on a field goal in the second half, before another Watson connection with former walk-on Hunter Renfrow brought them to within three points. Renfrow had caught two passes against Alabama in 2016 and would be a thorn in their side once again.
A breakdown in communication led to a long Jalen Hurts touchdown pass to O.J. Howard, but Clemson drove deep into Alabama territory and reduced the gap again at the start of the fourth. Even more crucial, a broken leg bone suffered by Scarbrough hampered Alabama’s run game, piling the pressure on 18-year-old freshman Hurts.
After several stops by both defences, Clemson drove 88 yards to take its first lead of the game. It was only the fourth time the Tide defence had allowed a touchdown drive of over 80 yards, and the very first time they had trailed all season.
Recently promoted offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian responded with a double pass putting Alabama on the Clemson side of the field. The trick play set the stage for Hurts to seemingly win the game, as his slaloming thirty-yard run put the Crimson Tide on top once again with only two minutes remaining.
There was no denying Clemson though, as Watson drove the Tigers down the field one last time. With the ball on Alabama’s two-yard line and only six seconds to play, Watson hit Renfrow once again for the game winner with only a second on the clock. Alabama was unhappy with several non-calls, but it was unquestionably an incredible finish to one of the best national championship games of all time.
— Nick Powell, Correspondent (Sport)