The Clemson Tigers roared to victory Monday night in a dramatic and nail-biting title game, upsetting the Alabama Crimson Tide in the final second of the College Football Playoff National Championship.
Clemson’s 35-31 victory over Alabama came at the end of what was essentially a rematch of last year’s championship game when Alabama emerged victorious 45-40. This year, however, the Clemson Tigers fought their way to victory and the school’s first national title since 1981.
“It was our night, it was our time,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said moments after winning.
Monday night’s game saw Alabama pull ahead early with touchdowns in the first and second quarters. The Tigers consistently trailed, but stayed in the game, returning touchdowns in the second and third quarters.
Toward the end of the third quarter, Alabama’s star rusher Bo Scarbrough suffered a leg injury, limping off the field and ending his night. But even without Scarbrough, the Crimson Tide kept rolling when O.J. Howard caught a long pass and sprinted into the end zone moments later, bringing his team’s score to 24.
But in response reminiscent of Clemson’s feline mascot, the team sprang back with their own touchdown — Mike Williams caught a short pass to the end zone — and brought the Tiger’s score to 21, making the game anyone’s call as it went into the fourth quarter.
Both teams slugged it out through the fourth quarter. With fewer than five minutes left in the game, Clemson scored again taking the lead, 28-24, for the first time in the game.
Alabama responded with it’s own touchdown and seized the lead back. With just one second left, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Hunter Renfrow for a stunning 35-31 win over Alabama.
The stakes had been high going into Monday’s game. Most fans expected Alabama to swamp Clemson, and the reigning champions were the AP’s top ranked team — an honor rival Clemson had going into last year’s game. Observers speculated that a victory would have made Alabama “the best team to ever play college football,” and would “burnish its dynastic résumé.”
The pressure was also on for Alabama head coach Nick Saban — looking to rack up his sixth national title (fifth at Alabama) and tie his legendary predecessor Bear Bryant — as well as for offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, who just joined the team in the fall.
Sarkisian was fired from his job as head coach at USC in 2015 after making headlines for incidents involving alcohol use. He was later hired as an analyst at Alabama, but Monday night’s game was his first as offensive coordinator.
Meanwhile, the Clemson Tigers — with their drought of national titles and 2016 loss — played the part of the scrappy underdogs. Their ace in the hole going into the game was quarterback Deshaun Watson, a two-time Heisman Trophy finalist who the New York Times called “the most important player on the field.”
After the game, while clutching a massive trophy, Swinney praised the team’s fans, called the players the “most incredible team I’ve ever been around,” and said he hoped to win a few more times again “before they put me out to pasture.”
“We set out to put Clemson back on top we came out a little shot last year,” Swinney said. “But tonight at the top of that mountain that Clemson flag is flying.”