Clemson upsets Alabama, 35-31, to win national championship


Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson threw a two-yard touchdown pass to receiver Hunter Renfrow for the go-ahead score with one second left on the clock to give the Tigers a 35-31 victory over the Alabama Crimson Tide in the College Football Playoff national championship on Monday at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.


First quarter:

  • Alabama RB Bo Scarbrough runs 25 yards for a TD (Alabama 7, Clemson 0)

Second quarter:

  • Alabama RB Bo Scarbrough scores on a 37-yard run (Alabama 14, Clemson 0)
  • Clemson QB Deshaun Watson scores on a eight-yard carry (Alabama 14, Clemson 7)

Third quarter:

  • Alabama K Adam Griffith makes a 27-yard field goal (Alabama 17, Clemson 7)
  • Clemson WR Hunter Renfrow scores on a 24-yard catch and run (Alabama 17, Clemson 14)
  • Alabama TE O.J. Howard scores on a 68-yard catch (Alabama 24, Clemson 14)

Fourth quarter:

  • Clemson WR Mike Williams catches a four-yard pass for a TD (Alabama 24, Clemson 21)
  • Clemson RB Wayne Gallman scores on a one-yard run (Clemson 28, Alabama 24)
  • Alabama QB Jalen Hurts runs 30 yards for a touchdown (Alabama 31, Clemson 28)
  • Clemson WR Hunter Renfrow scores on a two-yard catch (Clemson 35, Alabama 31)

Clemson wins national championship, 35-31, in thriller over Alabama

Clemson players celebrate after defeating Alabama, 35-31, in the College Football Playoff national championship game.
(Chris O'Meara / Associated Press)

Deshaun Watson rolled to his right and completed a two-yard pass to Hunter Renfrow as the receiver backpedaled across the goal line for a game-winning touchdown.

Second-ranked Clemson needed every second in Monday’s College Football Playoff national title game against top-ranked Alabama at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., to win its first national championship since 1981.

“This is bigger than just me,” Watson told reporters after the Tigers defeated the Crimson Tide, 35-31, by scoring 21 points in the fourth quarter.

The Tigers trailed, 31-28, when they got the ball with 2:01 remaining in the game.

Watson completed a 24-yard pass to Mike Williams and a 17-yard pass to Jordan Leggett to put the Tigers in scoring position. Renfrow caught the touchdown pass with one second left in regulation.

Clemson finished the season 14-1. Alabama, previously undefeated, fell to 14-1.

Watson passed for 420 yards and three touchdowns.

The Crimson Tide led 14-7 at the end of the first half before the Tigers made a comeback.

In the third quarter, the Tigers took advantage of a poor punt and good field position at Alabama’s 42-yard line. Renfrow caught a 24-yard pass for a touchdown and Clemson trailed, 17-14.

Alabama freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts responded with his longest completion of the game, a 68-yard pass to tight end O.J. Howard, and the Crimson Tide took a 10-point lead, 24-14.

In the fourth quarter, Clemson scored on back-to-back possessions when Mike Williams caught a four-yard pass for a touchdown and Wayne Gallman rushed one yard for a touchdown. The Tigers led, 28-24, with 4:38 remaining.

But Hurts rushed 30 yards for a touchdown to help the Crimson Tide retake the lead, 31-28, with a little more than two minutes on the board — enough time for Clemson’s nine-play, game-winning drive.

Hurts passed for 131 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 63 yards and a touchdown.

Alabama running back Bo Scarbrough was injured during the third quarter. He rushed for 93 yards and two touchdowns in 16 carries.


Hunter Renfrow has winning TD catch for Clemson


Clemson defeats Alabama, 35-31, to win national championship

The national championship game came down to the final seconds.

Hunter Renfrow caught a two-yard pass for a touchdown with one second left in the game.

Clemson leads Alabama, 35-31.

It was an impressive series for the Tigers.

Jordan Leggett caught a five-yard pass, and Mike Williams caught a 24-yard pass in the first two plays.

Renfrow caught a six-yard pass on third-and-one, then Leggett made a 17-yard reception -- redemption for an earlier dropped pass on third down.

The Crimson Tide was called for pass interference in the end zone, giving the Tigers a fresh set of downs and time to get into the end zone.

Clemson made an onside kick, recovered it and took a knee to win the game.


Alabama leads Clemson, 31-28, in the fourth quarter

Jalen Hurts is a freshman with a lot of guts.

Hurts took off and rushed 30 yards for an Alabama touchdown.

The Crimson Tide retake the lead, 31-28, with 2:07 remaining in the game.

Coach Nick Saban elected to go for it on fourth and one. Hurts handed off to Damien Harris, who rushed five yards for a first down.

Next play, Hurts tossed laterally to receiver ArDarius Stewart, who completed a 24-yard pass to O.J. Howard, setting up the touchdown run.

This is setting up for a remarkable finish.


Clemson leads Alabama, 28-24, in the fourth quarter

Clemson has taken the lead.

Wayne Gallman rushed one yard for a touchdown. The Tigers lead Alabama, 28-24, for the first time with 4:38 remaining in the game.

What a drive it was for Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson. The possession covered 88 yards in six plays and took 1:55.

Watson rushed 15 yards, but was stopped short of the end zone to set up the score.

He also completed a 17-yard pass to Jordan Leggett and a 26-yard pass to Mike Williams.

Officials tacked 15 more yards onto Williams’ catch after flagging Da'Ron Payne for unsportsmanlike conduct.

Alabama had not trailed in the fourth quarter this season.


Alabama’s offense is stalling without Bo Scarbrough

Jalen Hurts launched a deep third-down pass a bit too far, it fell incomplete and Alabama punted.

Once again, Clemson will have a chance to tie the score or take the lead.

Damien Harris rushed for three yards before Hurts threw two incomplete passes.

Hurts has completed 11 of 28 passes for 122 yards and a touchdown.


Clemson drops a third-down pass and punts

Jordan Leggett might be having nightmares about this drop.

Leggett let a pass hit him in the hands and fall to the ground on third and 10. Clemson punted.

Tigers Coach Dabo Swinney lost his mind during the possession when officials didn’t call defensive pass interference on an incomplete pass.

It’s apparent that the Tigers are starting to feel the pressure with less than eight minutes remaining in the game, and Clemson down three points.


Alabama punts for a second consecutive series

Alabama running back Bo Scarbrough remains sidelined after he suffered an injury in the third quarter, and his absence is hurting the Crimson Tide.

Alabama punted for a second consecutive series.

Jalen Hurts rushed for three yards, Josh Jacobs rushed for three more and then Hurts was forced out of bounds at the line of scrimmage.


Deshaun Watson takes fourth sack and Clemson punts

Clemson had a chance to tie the score or take the lead, but the Alabama defense made a stand.

Rashaan Evans and Jonathan Allen sacked Deshaun Watson on first down to set up second and 16. It was the fourth time Watson has been sacked in the game.

The Tigers couldn’t dig their way out of the hole and were forced to punt.


Clemson has the chance to take the lead against Alabama

O.J. Howard might have stolen a pass from tailback Damien Harris, and the result: short of a first down.

Alabama punted.

Clemson’s defense tackled Jalen Hurts for a one-yard loss before Cordrea Tankersley broke up a pass.

Clemson will now have a chance to take the lead.


Alabama leads Clemson, 24-21, in the fourth quarter

This game could come down to the final minutes now that Clemson has scored a much-needed touchdown.

Mike Williams, open in the end zone, caught a four-yard pass and the Tigers have cut Alabama’s lead to 24-21 with 14 minutes to play in the fourth quarter.

The scoring drive covered 72 yards in nine plays and took 2:47.

Deshaun Watson completed five passes, of 11, 12, 17, nine and four yards.


Alabama leads Clemson, 24-14, in the third quarter

What a dagger.

Jalen Hurts found tight end O.J. Howard running free down the left sideline behind the Clemson defense for a 68-yard pass play and a touchdown.

Alabama leads Clemson, 24-14, in the third quarter. The scoring drive covered 79 yards in four plays and took 1:01.

It was Howard’s second catch of the game and longest completion by Hurts, who was nine-of-23 passing for 49 yards before the play.

Bo Scarbrough rushed for 11 yards in consecutive carries, but was assisted off the field with an apparent injury after the second carry.

Clemson defensive end Clelin Ferrell has injured his left foot or ankle and is standing without his helmet on the sideline.


Deshaun Watson sacked for a third time

Deshaun Watson did all he could to try to convert on third and 15, but the Clemson quarterback was tackled -- and spun helicopter style to the ground -- one yard short of a first down.

The Tigers punted.

Wayne Gallman rushed for one yard, caught a 13-yard pass and rushed for two yards before Watson was sacked by Ryan Anderson.

It was the third time that Watson has been sacked.

Anderson has been everywhere for the Crimson Tide on defense.


Clemson’s defense makes another stop

Alabama’s offense is starting to sputter at the wrong time.

The Crimson Tide went three-and-out.

Jalen Hurts attempted a very deep pass on first down that fell incomplete.

Bo Scarbrough was met by Ben Boulware at the line of scrimmage and Hurts’ third-down pass was dropped by Gehrig Dieter.


Alabama leads Clemson, 17-14, in the third quarter

Clemson started with great field position and it resulted in seven points.

Deshaun Watson completed a 24-yard pass to Hunter Renfrow for a touchdown.

Alabama leads Clemson, 17-14, in the third quarter. The scoring drive covered 42 yards in four plays and took 1:03.

The Tigers started at Alabama’s 42-yard line after a short punt.

Deon Cain caught a 14-yard pass on a play that held up after a review, and Watson rushed for four yards. After an incomplete throw, Watson found Renfrow for the touchdown.


Clemson finally gets good field position

Alabama had bad field position -- at Clemson’s five-yard line -- and didn’t help its cause.

The Crimson Tide went three and out.

At halftime, Dabo Swinnney said the Tigers needed to improve their field position.

After a bad Crimson Tide punt from deep in their own territory, Clemson will have the ball at Alabama’s 42-yard line.


Officials reverse a call and Clemson punts

Officials reversed a call, ruling a Clemson pass on third down was incomplete, and Deshaun Watson pooch punted on fourth down.

The Tigers were moving the ball swiftly until Watson’s low throw on third down hit the ground.

Watson completed a 14-yard pass to Deon Cain, a nine-yard pass to Hunter Renfrow and a six-yard pass to Mike Williams during the possession.


Alabama leads Clemson, 17-7, in the third quarter

Ryan Anderson recovered his second fumble of the game and Alabama converted the turnover into three points.

The Crimson Tide lead Clemson, 17-7, in the third quarter.

The Tigers started the half with the ball but quickly lost it. Anderson knocked the ball out of Wayne Gallman’s arms, recovered it and ran 12 yards before Hunter Renfrow tackled him. If Renfrow hadn’t tackled him, Anderson could have gone for six.

Instead, the Crimson Tide were at Clemson’s 16-yard line.

Tackle Cam Robinson, not one for making mistakes, was called for his second false start of the game. Nick Saban looked angry on the sideline and Alabama settled for the field goal after finding itself at first and 15 and unable to dig out.


Alabama leads Clemson, 14-7, at halftime

Deshaun Watson made an impressive throw from deep in Clemson’s own territory when he connected with Hunter Renfrow on a 19-yard pass.

But the possession stalled in the next three plays, in part because of a false start, and the Tigers punted.

Clemson has three penalties for 35 yards. Alabama has five for 40.

Alabama got the ball back with 19 seconds remaining in the second quarter and ran one play.

Alabama Coach Nick Saban told a sideline reporter that the Crimson Tide needed to be more consistent and do “a better job at executing.”

Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney said that the Tigers were “getting their butts kicked in field position,” and that they must clean up their play.

Clemson has 203 total yards to Alabama’s 183.


Clemson’s defense makes another stop

Since giving up two touchdowns during the first quarter, Clemson’s defense has stifled Alabama.

Bo Scarbrough carried the ball three times, but was unable to reach a first down -- and was in fact tackled for a three-yard loss on third down.

The Tigers’ special teams, however, haven’t been so special. Their punt-return man opted to field a deep punt inside the 10-yard line, instead of possibly letting it bounce into the end zone. The Tigers must start at their five-yard line.


Deshaun Watson sacked a second time

Reuben Foster, momentum stopper.

Foster sacked Deshaun Watson on third down and Clemson punted from deep in its own territory.

Mike Williams, who took a helmet-to-helmet hit earlier in the game, caught a 20-yard pass but the Crimson Tide’s line stuffed the next three plays and forced an incomplete pass.

Watson has been sacked twice.


Clemson takes hold of momentum in national championship game

Momentum is suddenly in Clemson’s favor.

The Tigers made a big stop on third down and Alabama punted.

Jalen Hurts rushed for five yards before he completed a 15-yard pass to Calvin Ridley.

The drive stalled after Bo Scarbrough rushed for five yards, an incomplete pass and Hurts was tackled after only gaining a yard on third-and-five.

The Clemson defense appeared to know the third-down play before the ball was even snapped.


Alabama leads Clemson, 14-7, in the second quarter

Clemson didn’t just get the one big play it needed -- but three.

Deon Cain caught a short pass and turned on the jets for a 44-yard gain, Jordan Leggett caught a 26-yard pass over the middle, and Deshaun Watson rushed eight yards down the left sideline for a touchdown.

Alabama leads Clemson, 14-7, with 6:09 to play in the second quarter. The scoring drive covered 87 yards in seven plays and took 1:33.

The Tigers had barely been able to string together consecutive first downs through their five previous series. That last drive was a complete turnaround.


Video: Clemson’s Deshaun Watson scores on an 8-yard run


Clemson’s defense makes a stop on third down

Clemson’s defense came up with a stop.

Jalen Hurts completed a nine-yard pass to Calvin Ridley, but the drive stalled when Damien Harris rushed for one yard and Hurts’ next two passes fell incomplete.

His third-down pass was tipped by the Tigers’ defense.

It’s still early, but there’s a sense in watching the game that the Tigers must put some points on the board to stay in this.


Alabama is shutting down Clemson’s offense

Clemson might need only one play to climb back into this game, but it doesn’t appear that that play will come anytime soon.

The Tigers went three-and-out after Alabama took a 14-0 lead.

Hunter Renfrow caught a nine-yard pass before Wayne Gallman was tackled at the line of scrimmage and Deshaun Watson’s third-and-one pass to Renfrow fell incomplete.

Some of Clemson’s third-down play calls have been puzzling, at best. Even if Renfrow had caught the pass, which came on a play when the Tigers rolled Watson to the right behind a moving pocket, the throw was short of the first-down marker.


Alabama leads Clemson, 14-0, in the second quarter

Bo Scarbrough rushed 37 yards for a touchdown and Alabama is in control of the national championship game.

The Crimson Tide lead Clemson, 14-0, with 10:42 to play in the second quarter. The scoring drive covered 74 yards in five plays and took 1:24.

ArDarius Stewart rushed for 25 yards, Scarbrough went for three and Calvin Ridley caught an eight-yard pass to set up the touchdown run.

Scarbrough looks like a man among boys as he has plowed through the Tigers’ normally stout defense. He has rushed for 71 yards and two touchdowns in eight carries.


Clemson’s offense unable to move against Alabama

Clemson’s offense appeared to find some type of rhythm, but it wasn’t enough as the Tigers punted a second time (they’ve also turned the ball over on downs and fumbled).

Wayne Gallman rushed for 14 yards in three carries, including a four-yard run to convert on third down.

But Deshaun Watson has been under pressure and unable to complete crucial passes, mostly on third down. His latest attempt to Jordan Leggett on third-and-nine fell incomplete.


Alabama forces turnover but can’t pick up any points

Alabama forced a turnover but was unable to convert it into any points.

Deshaun Watson was tackled for a five-yard loss, fumbled and Ryan Anderson recovered for the Crimson Tide at Clemson’s 37-yard line.

The Crimson Tide’s possession began with a false start and then Bo Scarbrough was tackled for a five-yard loss.

Jalen Hurts’ third-and-long pass fell incomplete.

Alabama has four penalties for 35 yards. One might imagine they’ll hear about those from Coach Nick Saban at the end of the first quarter.


Slideshow: Photos from the College Football Playoff national championship game

Clemson running back Wayne Gallman (9) is brought down by Alabama defensive back Tony Brown (left). To see more images from the game, click on the photo above.
(John Bazemore / Associated Press)


Penalty slows Alabama

Alabama, stopped by its own penalty.

Jalen Hurts rushed for eight yards on third down, but his lineman was called for holding to set up third-and-long. Hurts pass was tipped and fell incomplete.

Clemson will have decent field position at their 37-yard line after partially blocking the punt.

Bo Scarbrough has been a monster for the Crimson Tide. He rushed for four yards in two carries and caught a seven-yard pass -- but perhaps most impressive was a big block he threw after recognizing a blitz, which allowed Hurts to rush for eight yards.

Also, check out the clip below. Alabama has now, apparently, gotten away with two plays that could have been called targeting and would have resulted in ejections.

Despite taking this hit, receiver Mike Williams will return this possession for the Tigers.


Alabama’s defense holds and Clemson punts

Alabama’s defense has not let up.

Clemson ran six plays before punting.

Deshaun Watson completed an eight-yard pass to Jordan Leggett, but the Tigers stalled after rushing the ball a couple of times for six yards before Watson’s deep throw on third down fell incomplete.

Penalties have plagued both teams. The Tigers made a long kickoff return, but it was brought back because of a personal foul.

Clemson has two penalties for 30 yards, Alabama has two for 20 -- and the officials appear to be letting some nasty hits go.


Alabama leads Clemson, 7-0, in the first quarter

Clemson’s defense made a stand in its first series, but Alabama stormed right through in their second possession.

Bo Scarbrough found the edge and broke a couple tackles to rush 25 yards for a touchdown.

The Crimson Tide lead the Tigers, 7-0, with 9:23 to play in the first quarter. The scoring drive covered 59 yards in three plays and took just 58 seconds.

Jalen Hurts rushed for 20 yards and Scarbrough rushed for four before penalties were traded. Clemson was called for roughing the passer, Alabama then called for illegal motion.

The cameras showed Steve Sarkisian after the penalty, the broadcast announcers making mention that Nick Saban likely will not scold Sarkisian in his first game as play caller.

Scarbrough, like a Mack Truck, rushed for the touchdown on the ensuing play.


Video: Alabama’s Bo Scarbrough runs 25 yards for a touchdown


Clemson stopped on fourth-and-inches

You can hear the thud with every tackle Alabama makes, but Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney decided to test the Crimson Tide’s defense on fourth down.

The Tigers came up short.

Deshaun Watson pitched to Wayne Gallman and he was stopped well short of a first down on fourth-and-one.

The Crimson Tide take over at their 41-yard line.

Earlier in the series, Reuben Foster hit Watson and was called for a personal foul. Check out the video, and decide for yourself if Foster should have been called for targeting and ejected from the game.


Alabama starts title game with a three-and-out

Alabama’s offense was shut down to start the game.

Steve Sarkisian’s first play-call as the Crimson Tide’s offensive coordinator was a bubble screen. The pass was knocked down.

Bo Scarbrough was tackled for a one-yard loss and Calvin Ridley was tackled near the line of scrimmage after making a short catch.

Clemson’s defense appears ready.


Last-minute ticket prices into the national championship game

Want a last-minute ticket into tonight’s national championship game?

It’s going to cost you.

With minutes until kickoff, StubHub’s cheapest ticket into Raymond James Stadium is $2,500, and it’s in the upper deck.

If field level is more your style, it’s only $11,748 per seat.


Do you feel the buzz for the national championship game?

Top-ranked Alabama (14-0) faces off against second-ranked Clemson (13-1) tonight in the national championship game at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.

But there seems to be a lack of buzz, at least on the West Coast.

Could it be a fatigue for the Crimson Tide, who have won four of the last seven title games? Or a lack of excitement over a rematch of last year’s championship game?

What about the possibility that the holidays are over, we’re nearly halfway through January and the NFL playoffs have begun?


Steve Sarkisian keeps moving forward along with the Crimson Tide’s offense

(Brian Blanco / Getty Images)

No-nonsense, rarely smiling, control-freak Nick Saban is a gambler. Who knew?

Three years after placing the Alabama offense in the hands of loose cannon Lane Kiffin, Saban has taken another chance, this one bolder and more dangerous.

He has made Steve Sarkisian his new offensive coordinator.

Never mind the part about Saban suddenly severing ties with Kiffin and replacing him with Sarkisian in the days leading up to Alabama’s national championship game against Clemson. Sarkisian has been an offensive analyst for the team the entire season. The former USC coach knows the system. He should be able to call the plays for one game.

This is about more than the game Monday night. This is about visits in the fall to college towns such as Starkville and Auburn. This is about lonely nights on or near the Alabama campus after 15-hour work days. This is about next year and perhaps the year after that.

Sarkisian is a recovering alcoholic. Monday is only a start. Every day is only a start. The threat of temptation will always be there. Any slip and Sarkisian is back to where he was more than a year ago, when a series of drinking-related incidents prompted USC to fire him.

“It’s a process,” Sarkisian said. “The reality of it is, I’m at this point today and I’m at this point today with a tremendous opportunity.”

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How the Crimson Tide and Tigers match up

This is the title game everyone — well, almost everyone — wanted to see.

It’s a rematch between the two powerhouses that slugged it out in last year’s final, when the Crimson Tide executed a gutsy on-side kick in the fourth quarter and won, 45-40.

This time around, most of the attention will focus on Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, a two-time Heisman Trophy finalist, versus an intimidating defense.

As Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney put it: “They’re No. 1 in the world in everything.”

But don’t be surprised if the Tigers’ fearsome defensive line plays a crucial role against Alabama’s freshman quarterback, Jalen Hurts.

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The Tigers’ Mike Williams looks to the future and not the past

(Streeter Lecka / Getty Images)

It’s easier to make sense of the past when you’re content with your present-day circumstances. Take Mike Williams.

Clemson’s star receiver smiles and speaks with a carefree air when revisiting a crash with a goalpost that fractured a vertebrae and sidelined him for all of last season.

“God doesn’t say, ‘Oops,’ ” Williams said over the weekend, repeating the words of Tigers Coach Dabo Swinney.

His NFL future? The fourth-year junior is the top-rated receiver for the upcoming draft.

The disappointment of sitting out the national championship game against Alabama last year? The rematch Monday night will make up for it.

The nightmare that could have unfolded never did. Life was delayed, but remained on the same path. And now, Clemson will have a chance to win its first national championship in 35 years.

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The College Football Playoff final is the right matchup, but the system needs some fine-tuning

(Butch Dill / Associated Press)

Name two better teams to play for the college football championship game. I dare you.

Don’t say USC — not after the Trojans gave up 49 points in the Rose Bowl. Don’t say Penn State, which lost that game in Pasadena.

Don’t say Oklahoma or Wisconsin. Certainly not Michigan, which stumbled in its bowl game.

Top-ranked Alabama and No. 2 Clemson clearly deserve to be in the College Football Playoff title game Monday night.

That doesn’t mean the current system is theoretically the best way to determine a champion. An expanded field — eight contenders, maybe even 16 — might yield a more comprehensive result.

But is the four-team format the best possible solution?

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