The Clemson Tigers dethroned the reigning champions, the Alabama Crimson Tide, in a college football National Championship that many will remember for years to come.
It was a heavyweight matchup for the ages, the likes of Ali and Frazer, or Tyson and Holyfield, with a story seemingly written by destiny. The beginning of this story does not start at kick off of the National Championship game, nor does it begin with the first game of the regular season. This story starts with Clemson losing the title game to the Alabama just a year ago.
The Crimson Tide were ranked as the second seed behind Clemson, who were believed to be the best team in the nation, and were seen as the slight favorites to win the title. An extremely physical game was expected, and both teams along with the fans were expecting an all-out war from arguably the top two teams in the Nation. The game became a shootout the Tigers would not be able win, ultimately facing defeat by a 45-40 final.
Instead of looking for some sort of victory in defeat, Clemson found the motivation that would propel the Tigers right back to the National Championship game. Clemson would go 13-1 through the 2016 regular season and playoffs, continuously trailing Alabama in the top-25 rankings. Clemson was led by senior quarterback and Heisman runner-up Deshaun Watson all season, who brought them back to the National Championship game where they were set to meet Alabama once again.
Emotions were high; you could feel the tension and energy radiating from Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay, Florida, as the game commenced. The stage was set for one of the biggest college football rematches of all time. Clemson won the coin toss and deferred to the second half, allowing the Crimson Tide to start the game on offense.
Each half displayed a different plot of this two-part motion picture, as Alabama dominated the beginning of the game, scoring on a 25-yard touchdown run by Bo Scarborough after Clemson committed a crucial penalty in roughing the passer. The Alabama defense would continue their stingy ways, forcing Clemson to turnover the football on a fumble by Watson late in the first quarter. The Crimson Tide would score again, this time on a 37-yard run by Scarborough that would put the defending champs up by two touchdowns.
The game was in question going into the second quarter of play. Clemson was down by two possessions and they had yet to put any points on the board, let alone a meaningful drive together. With a little more than seven minutes left in the second half, the Tigers drove down the field for a seven-play, 87-yard drive that ended on a six-yard rushing touchdown by Watson.
The Heisman-candidate was able to pull the Tigers within one score, and the first half would end with a 14-7 lead for the Crimson Tide. The Tigers would receive the ball at the beginning of the second half, but the drive ended quickly with Clemson punting the ball after a three-and-out. On the ensuing drive, the Crimson Tide scored on a field goal, pushing the game to a 17-7 score.
With eight minutes left in the third, the Tigers went on a four-play, 42-yard scoring drive that ended on a touchdown pass up the middle to wide receiver Hunter Renfrow. The touchdown pass brought Clemson right back into the game and only down by a field goal with more than a quarter left to play in the game.
With 1:53 left in the third quarter, Alabama would score on a 68-yard touchdown pass down the sideline to last year’s offensive playoff MVP, tight end O.J. Howard. Clemson would quickly answer with a touchdown of their own on a 9 play, 72-yard drive that ended on a touchdown pass from Watson to wide receiver Mike Williams, making it 24-21 Alabama, just a minute into the fourth quarter.
With six minutes left in the game, the Tigers scored again after driving nearly the entire length of the field, going 88 yards on just six plays. The drive ended on a one-yard touchdown run by Clemson’s running back, Wayne Gallman, giving the Tigers the first lead of the game with less than five minutes to go in the game.
Alabama needed to drive the ball downfield and score a touchdown, otherwise the game was going to be over for the Crimson Tide. With less than five minutes on the clock, Alabama gave the ball to their true freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts to go and win the Tide’s second-consecutive National Championship. Hurts delivered for Alabama, taking the ball all the way down the field and scoring on a 30-yard touchdown run giving the Crimson Tide the lead yet again, 31-28 with just 2:06 remaining.
The ball was put into Watson’s hand, giving him an opportunity that he wasn’t afforded last time: to go down the field and win the National Championship after it was ripped from his hands just a year ago. On nine plays, Watson drove the ball downfield, getting the ball down to the two-yard line with single-digit seconds left on the clock.
Resembling the classic 2006 National Championship between the Texas Longhorns and USC Trojans, Watson reminded football fans of Vince Young’s heroics 11 years later. Watson threw his third touchdown pass of the game to Renfrow (his second score) and the game-winning touchdown with a second left on the clock. The game was all but over. The Tigers tried an onside kick and ended up recovering the ball, solidifying Clemson’s second title in their school’s history with a 35-31 victory over the reigning champions. The quest for revenge was complete, and Alabama was dethroned.
Watson finished the game with 420 passing yards and three touchdowns, completing 36 of 56 passes and a quarterback rating of 67.1, while rushing for 43 yards and a touchdown. His performance earned him the award of offensive MVP for the game. Gallman finished as the team’s leading rusher with 46 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries.
Four receivers on the Clemson side finished with over 90 yards receiving, but the standouts in the receiving core were players like Renfrow, who finished with 92 yards and two touchdowns on 10 receptions, and Williams, who scored a touchdown and finished with 94 yards receiving on eight receptions. Receivers Jordan Leggett and Deon Cain also stayed busy, with each recording over 90 yards receiving. Leggett tallied 95 yards on seven receptions, while Cain had 94 yards on five receptions.
On the Alabama side of the ball, Hurts finished with 131 yards and a touchdown through the air, completing 13 of 31 passes with a QBR of 25.2. Hurts also finished with 63 rushing yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. On the ground, Scarborough led the team in rushing, with 93 yards and two touchdowns just in the first half. Unfortunately, Scarborough’s night was cut short as he was taken off the field early in the third quarter after suffering an apparent leg injury.
Leading Alabama in receiving was the tight end Howard with 106 yards and a touchdown on four receptions. Other receivers like Calvin Ridley and ArDarius Stewart tried to get more involved in the offense, but Hurts struggled throughout the night to consistently find open receivers.
Now the Clemson Tigers are the new kings of college football. They climbed to the top and knocked off one of the greatest dynasties college sports has ever seen. The Tigers found the revenge they were searching for and gave the Crimson Tide the payback Clemson felt after their heartbreaking loss just a year ago. Now Watson and the rest of the senior class for the Tigers can ride off into the sunset with their heads held high. With the fall of Alabama, perhaps we will be seeing the next great college dynasty in the making. For one to rise, one must fall.