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Clemson Unseats Alabama

By Carlos Pineda
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Looking to get back to the mountain-top for the first time since 1981, the Clemson Tigers returned to the summit Monday night in Tampa, ending a 35-year-drought.

Looking to get back to the mountain-top for the first time since 1981, the Clemson Tigers returned to the summit Monday night in Tampa, ending a 35-year-drought.

The second-ranked Tigers (14-1), who knocked off No. 1 Alabama 35-31 in a gripping game for the ages, overcame multiple deficits throughout the 2017 College Football Playoff national championship game to win it all on a two-yard touchdown pass from Deshaun Watson to Hunter Renfrow with only one second left on the clock.

The title game rematch of last year’s 45-40 Alabama victory lived up to the hype, and has drawn some comparison to the 2006 Rose Bowl which featured Texas and USC.

Once again led by Watson, Clemson’s offense managed to turn around a floundering first half, which saw the Tigers’ high-powered attack struggle against the nation’s top defense. The Heisman Trophy finalist, who threw for 405 yards and four touchdowns against the Tide (14-1) last year, had trouble finding his rhythm in the first half, completing 13 passes for 153 yards, while being sacked twice and held to one net yard.

He rebounded nicely in the second half, throwing for 267 yards with three touchdowns. Watson final stat line read 35 of 56 completions for 420 yards with four total touchdowns and 43 rushing yards.

Despite trailing for over 75 percent of the game, the Tigers’ offense managed to cut into Alabama’s various lead multiple times before finally taking their first lead of the contest, 28-24, with 4:38 remaining in the game.

Clemson understood it needed to play flawlessly if it had any hopes of dethroning the Tide. Alabama, which scored 15 non-offensive touchdowns during the 2016 season, nearly added another one on Monday after the defense stripped running back Wayne Gallman on Clemson’s first drive of the third quarter. Luckily for Clemson, Renfrow was able to tackle Ryan Anderson and the Tide had to settle for a field goal.

The Tigers overcame a moment of deja vu when Alabama’s freshman quarterback Jalen Hurt found O.J. Howard all alone behind Clemson’s secondary to score a momentum-changing 68-yard touchdown, which gave Alabama a 10-point late (24-14) in the third quarter. Howard torched the Tigers defense last year amassing 208 yards with two touchdowns. Clemson’s defense, which forced Alabama to beat them with the run, held the Tide to 376 total yards. Bo Scarbrough, the team’s go-to guy was held to 93 rushing yards before leaving the game with what appeared to be a leg injury in the third quarter. Scarbrough scored on touchdown runs of 25 and 37 yards in the first half.

The Tigers counted on their playmakers to deliver. Four players had at least 90 receiving yards on Monday night. Like a year ago, Renfrow was clutch, leading Clemson with 10 receptions for 92 yards and two touchdowns. Mike Williams, who missed the 2015 season with a broken neck delivered with several breathtaking catches. Williams with 94 receiving yards and a touchdown. Jordan Leggett, the talented tight end had 95 yards on seven receptions.

Monday night’s win was the culmination of an incredible journey the Tigers have been on for the last five years. Clemson has won the ACC title three times in that span and played in several marquee New Year Six bowl game. Under Swinney, the Tigers have overhauled their image. Far remove from being underachievers, Clemson is among the elite in college football. The national championship only solidifies it.

Clemson was a team of destiny. Not even Hurts' 30-yard touchdown run to give Alabama a 31-28 lead with 2:07 left in the fourth quarter was enough to ward off the Tigers, as they put together a highlight drive, marching 68 yards on nine plays in two minutes to make history.

Carlos Pineda - Carlos Pineda is a featured writer for Southern Pigskin. He covered the UCF Knights football team for Florida Today in 2010. Carlos' work has been published in the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Miami Herald, Orlando Sentinel and Orlando Business Journal. He attended the University of Central Florida. Follow Carlos on Twitter @CarlosFPineda.