Clemson football wins first national title since 1981

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Credit: Zachary Hanby

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After last year’s loss in the College Football Playoff National Championship game against the Alabama Crimson Tide, the Clemson Tigers wanted another chance to redeem themselves.

And they did. Early into the hours of Tuesday morning, the Tigers captured the program’s first national championship since 1981, prevailing over the Crimson Tide 35-31.

Clemson trailed Alabama for most of the game, taking its first lead with just over four and a half minutes remaining in the contest. Running back Wayne Gallman punched the ball in the end zone to put the Tigers up 28-24, but Nick Saban’s squad responded on their next drive. Quarterback Jalen Hurts capped a 68-yard scoring drive with a 30-yard touchdown run to retake the lead, 31-28.

Only 2:07 remained in the game.

What happened next will be remembered not just as one of the greatest moments in Clemson football history but also one of the most thrilling endings to a college football national championship game.

Beginning at their own 32 yard line, quarterback Deshaun Watson methodically led the Tigers down the field. On this drive, Mike Williams — who had to battle Alabama’s tough, physical cornerbacks all night — once again showed why he will likely be the first wide receiver off the board in this year’s NFL Draft. With 1:56 remaining, on 2nd and 5 at the Clemson 37, Williams made a leaping, acrobatic catch over an Alabama defender, coming down with the ball in Crimson Tide territory. Four plays later, tight end Jordan Leggett showed off his own athleticism with a catch that brought Clemson to the Tide’s 9 yard line.

Time was ticking away. With 19 seconds left, Clemson called a timeout. It was unclear if Dabo Swinney was strategizing to win it all in the final seconds or leave it up to kicker Greg Huegel to tie the game and take it into overtime.

That question was soon answered. With 14 seconds left, Watson tried to find Williams in the corner of the end zone, but defensive back Anthony Averett committed pass interference, a penalty that brought the Tigers to the 2 yard line.

Six seconds remained, and the next play is one that won’t be forgotten any time soon. Watson, rolling out of the pocket, found the always reliable wide receiver Hunter Renfrow in the end zone, and the Tigers took the lead 35-31 after a Huegel kick. One second was left on the clock.

After Clemson recovered an onside kick, Watson, in his final moment standing behind center in a Tigers uniform, took a knee and sealed a long-awaited victory, one that was 35 years in the making.

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