By: David Woeltz ~Staff Writer~
College football’s second National Championship game under the playoff system had a familiar ending. Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide (14- 1) lifted the championship trophy for a remarkable fourth title in the last seven years.
Unlike previous championship games under Saban, Alabama was pushed to the wire by the explosive DeShaun Watson-led Clemson Tigers. Alabama had several big plays down the stretch to seize momentum late in the fourth quarter en route to a 45-40 victory.
Derrick Henry finished with 158 yards and three touchdowns on 36 carries despite being stopped in the backfield on multiple occasions. Clemson’s defensive front led by Shaq Lawson and Kevin Dodd, who ended up with three sacks, was not enough to stymie the Crimson Tide.
Even in a loss, the Tigers got a championship effort from standout sophomore DeShaun Watson who threw for 405 yards and four touchdowns. Watson connected with freshman walk-on Hunter Renfrow for two touchdowns to take the lead 14-7 in the first quarter after Heisman winner Derrick Henry started the fireworks with a 50-yard touchdown run for the Crimson Tide.
Watson was able to extend drives and elude Alabama’s pass rush with his running ability all night. His quickness made it almost impossible for Kirby Smart’s defense to scheme against him, but their second half adjustments slowed him down.
Alabama quarterback Jake Coker found tight end O.J. Howard for three passes of more than 50 yards, including two touchdowns. Coker finished with 335 yards in a mistake-free night. Howard exploited blown coverage for both of his scores on a Clemson secondary that was reeling after losing its lockdown cornerback Mackensie Alexander to injury.
Even with a good offensive performance, special teams made the difference for Alabama. Saban made the gutsy call to attempt an onside kick with 10:34 left in the fourth quarter after tying the game at 24-24. It paid off for the Crimson Tide, who recovered it and scored again to take the lead at 31-24.
After Clemson responded with a field goal to make it 31-27, Kenyan Drake returned the kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown to give them a nearly insurmountable lead of 38-27. Alabama never looked back, and Nick Saban’s fifth championship cemented him as one of college football’s best coaches of all.