Clemson coach Dabo Swinney stated leading up to the national championship game the Tigers would only win if they were able to knock out the champs, Alabama, not just knock them down.
With one second remaining, Deshaun Watson and Hunter Renfrow delivered the finishing blow.
Watson connected with Renfrow for a 2-yard touchdown pass with one second on the clock as the Tigers topped Alabama 35-31 to win their first national title since 1981.
The victory came one year after Clemson lost a heartbreaker to the Crimson Tide, 45-40, in Arizona.
“Eight years ago our goal was to work our tails off and eventually get Clemson back on top. … The paw is flying on top of that mountain tonight,” Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said. “We saw the top of it last year, didn’t get quite there. Tonight we took that next step.”
Watson was magical in the win, passing for 420 yards and three touchdowns against the nation’s top-ranked defense. He also rushed for 43 yards and a score.
The Heisman runner-up led three scoring drives in the fourth quarter totaling 21 points. Alabama allowed 21 points in a game twice all year before Monday.
“He didn’t lose out on the Heisman, the Heisman lost out on him. They lost out on an opportunity to be attached to this guy forever,” Swinney said. “This was his Heisman tonight, and this was really what he wanted. This is what he came to Clemson to do.”
The Tigers trailed 24-14 entering the fourth quarter before outscoring Alabama 21-7 in the final period.
Watson found Mike Williams for a 4-yard touchdown pass with 14 minutes remaining, and Clemson took its first lead of the game, 28-24, at the 4:38 mark on a 1-yard run by Wayne Gallman.
Alabama answered when Jalen Hurts scored on a 30-yard run to put the Crimson Tide ahead 31-28.
Watson and the Tigers got the ball back with 2 minutes remaining, and orchestrated a nine-play, 68-yard drive that will go down in history.
“I knew my guys was going to make plays and I knew my offensive line was going to give me time, and I’m thankful for the people I have around me and believing in me to get the ball and those guys making big-time plays, and we just drove down,” Watson said.
The junior, who announced after the game he will enter the NFL Draft, spread the ball around to his playmakers as Renfrow, Williams, Jordan Leggett and Deon Cain each had more than 90 receiving yards. Renfrow led the way with 10 grabs for 92 yards and two scores.
Renfrow, a sophomore, never imagined when he decided to walk-on at Clemson that he would make the game-winning touchdown catch in the national title game.
“Never in a million years. It’s been such a journey for me,” he said. “It’s like I got knocked out in the third quarter and this was all a dream.”
Clemson’s defense got off to a slow start as Bo Scarbrough had touchdown runs of 25 and 37 yards in the first 20 minutes of the game to give Alabama a 14-0 lead. However, it settled in and held the Crimson Tide to 376 total yards. Clemson finished with 511.
Watson found Renfrow in the right side of the end zone for a touchdown that will be played over and over in Clemson for years to come.
Star of the game: Watson kept getting knocked down and kept getting back up. For the second consecutive year, he put together a masterful performance against the nation’s best defense, finishing with 463 total yards and four total touchdowns.
Crush: The play Clemson scored the game-winning touchdown on is called crush and was called by co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott. Artavis Scott was able to pick Renfrow’s defender in man coverage to allow Renfrow to run free.
Stat of the game: 825: Watson has played two games against Alabama and legendary coach Nick Saban. In those games he has passed for a combined 825 yards and has eight total touchdowns.
HOW THEY SCORED
BAMA_Scarbrough 25 run (Griffith kick), 9:23
BAMA_Scarbrough 37 run (Griffith kick), 10:42
CLE_Watson 8 run (Huegel kick), 6:09
BAMA_FG Griffith 27, 12:25
CLE_Renfrow 24 pass from Watson (Huegel kick), 7:10
BAMA_Howard 68 pass from Hurts (Griffith kick), 1:53
CLE_M.Williams 4 pass from Watson (Huegel kick), 14:00
CLE_Gallman 1 run (Huegel kick), 4:38
BAMA_Hurts 30 run (Griffith kick), 2:07
CLE_Renfrow 2 pass from Watson (Huegel kick), :01
Time of Possession
RUSHING_Clemson, Gallman 18-46, Watson 22-43, Fuller 1-3, A.Scott 1-0, (Team) 1-(minus 1). Alabama, Scarbrough 16-93, Hurts 9-63, A.Stewart 1-25, D.Harris 5-24, Jacobs 2-16.
PASSING_Clemson, Watson 36-56-0-420, (Team) 0-1-0-0. Alabama, Hurts 13-31-0-131, A.Stewart 1-1-0-24.
RECEIVING_Clemson, Renfrow 10-92, M.Williams 8-94, Leggett 7-95, Cain 5-94, Gallman 3-39, A.Scott 3-6. Alabama, Ridley 5-36, Howard 4-106, A.Stewart 2-12, Scarbrough 2-7, D.Harris 1-(minus 6).
MISSED FIELD GOALS_None.