Martes, 10 de Enero de 2017 a las 02:30 hrs.
Alberto García Ramos
It felt like it was going to get ugly. Bo Scarbrough, the University of Alabama running back, was running through people early in the first half, and put the score 14-0 in favor of the Crimson Tide. There was apparently no answer for this bulking running attack, and Alabama’s defense was living up to the hype. Halfway through the second quarter, Clemson’s longest play was for 11 yards, in the opening snap of the game, played in Raymond James Stadium, in Tampa, Florida, USA.
Not only the score reflected the story of the game, the National Championship game between the two squads from last year, Clemson and Alabama. The physicality of the hits was resounding in Clemson’s players. Rueben Foster layed a vicious hit right into Deshaun Watson’s helmet which set the tone for the first moments of the game: punishing.
Even Mike Williams had to be taken out of the field after another humongous hit, this time by safety Tony Brown. It looked like the Tide Defense had eliminated Clemson’s main passing weapon early in the first quarter, but eventually Williams came back to the field. Still, the ferocious, savage stigma of this brutal defense dominated the first quarter and part of the second.
But then, Deshaun Watson happened. As the offense started clicking, Deon Cain took a screen pass 43 yards downfield to the Alabama 39-yard line. Clemson was feeling its momentum, and Deshaun Watson capitalized the drive with an 8-yard touchdown run. His was the first QB run allowed by the Bama defense all season; 14-7 in the second quarter.
Going into the half, the smash-mouth running game, the impenetrable defense and a flawless punter were working swell for the Alabama Crimson Tide. Being a defensive battle, it started to feel like last year’s championship, where points exploded in the second half. Clemson ended up in the losing side of that contest.
Starting the third quarter, it almost felt like it wouldn’t be as close as last year. In the first possession, Alabama forced its second fumble of the night. Ryan Anderson stripped the ball off Wayne Gallman’s hands, and recovered the ball himself to take it deep into Tiger territory. Anderson was one tackle away from the Tide’s 12th defensive touchdown, and his second in back-to-back weeks.
There wasn’t only one powerful defense in Raymond James Stadium, though. Tigers’ defensive unit handled the difficult task of having the Bama offense in the red zone, and allowed only a 27-yard field goal. At this point in the game, it felt like a 10-point lead would be too much for Clemson, down 17-7.
Suddenly, Bo Scarborough’s dominance was controlled by the defense, and Jalen Hurts’ passing attack was almost obsolete. Not even Alabama’s punter caught a break in the third quarter, when one of his punts landed in their own 42, setting up Clemson’s second touchdown.
A four-play drive ended up in the promise land, with Hunter Renfrow converting a 10-yard catch into a 24-yard touchdown. The unsung hero of Clemson’s effort back in 2016 made his presence felt in this edition of the Championship.
The Tide never seems to faint against adversity. With 2:34 in the third quarter, Bo Scarbrough got injured, and wouldn’t return for the rest of the game. Two plays later, a blown coverage gave the opportunity to OJ Howard to explode with a 68-yard touchdown reception. Deja Vu, anybody? It was 24-14, Alabama up. A display of the breath-taking speed of the Alabama tight end makes it wonder why he’s not a quintessential part of this Bama Offense. Now, he’s gone to the NFL.
But as much as Alabama tried to recover the momentum, Deshaun Watson and his receiving corps weren’t done yet. They were just getting started. A pair of 12-yard completions to Deon Cain, plus a 17-yard receiving effort by Jordan Leggett put the ball inside Alabama’s 20. Three plays later, Mike Williams scored a 4-yard touchdown to make it, again, a 3-point deficit, 24-21.
Entering the fourth quarter, it was still 24-14 in favor of the Tide. Nick Saban had 99 wins and ZERO losses when entering the fourth quarter with a lead. Madness ensued.
Without Scarbrough, a struggling Hurts, and a fired-up Clemson defense, nothing was going right for the Alabama’s offense. Two straight there-and-outs by an offense with a new Offensive Coordinator halfway through the fourth quarter were less than ideal.
It was a matter of time for Clemson to take the lead. And they did with the help of Mike Williams’ elite ball skills. A 26-yard breath-taking reception, plus a 15-yard penalty at the end of the play against Bama, put the Tigers at the 16-yard line. Followed by an amazing run by Watson, the Tigers were in the 1-yard line. Wayne Gallman caped the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run, and it was suddenly a 4-point game in favor of Clemson.
The Alabama QB, Jalen Hurts, wasn’t part of the Championship team from a year ago. He wanted his ring, and he led the Tide offense down the field to punctuate that desire.
A 6 -yard loss by Damien Harris set up 3rd and 16 from their own 26. Rolling to his left, Hurts threw the ball across his body, and found ArDarius Stewart who came up one yard short. A 5-yard Damien Harris run kept the drive alive.
Then, amazing trickery was used by Nick Saban’s offense. ArDarius Stewart, a Tide wide receiver but former Quarterback at High School threw a laser 24 yards down the field to OJ Howard, who once again, after a less-than-stellar role throughout the season, was being a key weapon of the Alabama offensive unit. They were already in Clemson’s 30 yard-line.
One play later, the cool, clutch steadiness by Jalen Hurts took effect in Tampa. There’s not a stage too big for the 18-year old true freshman Quarterback, who stepped up in the pocket, decided to run the ball, and broke a couple of tackles to reach the end zone. In a matter of 2 minutes and 31 seconds, Alabama regained the lead, 31-28. Hurts had one goal: to become just the second freshman quarterback EVER to lead his team to a National Championship. When the football was in his hands, he delivered. It was now time for the No. 1, undisputed best defense in the nation to do its job.
With 2:07 left in the game, it was make-or-break time. The moment of truth. If you’re deserving of proclaiming yourself “National Champion”, this is the stage you want to be in. A 3-point deficit, against the reigning Champ and their #1 ranked defense. Allowing an average of 11 points per game, 28 wan’t going to be enough for the Clemson Tigers. In order to overcome the Alabama Crimson Tide, they needed one last effort.
Big time players make big time plays on big time games. From their own 37, Watson looked for Mike Williams once again, only for the star receiver to make another circus catch and get the Tigers the ball in Crimson Tide territory, all the way to the Bama 39.
Watson and Clemson looked so calm, that inside the one-minute mark, they didn’t call a timeout nor spiked the ball. Thirty-three seconds were wasted between one play and another, but Hunter Renfrow gave the Tigers a first down at the Bama 26, three plays after the Williams grab.
Two plays later, senior tight end Jordan Leggett made one of the best catches of the game, even if that seemed impossible with Williams on the field. Putting the ball in the 9-yard line, there were 9 ticks left until the clock hit zero.
A quick pass to Williams drew a DPI penalty by Anthony Averett, and moved the ball to the 2-yard line with 6 seconds left.
And then, the unsung hero of the Clemson Tigers offense stroke one last time against Alabama. Deshaun Watson hit Hunter Renfrow who walked into the end zone, and consumed the Clemson Tigers’ thirst of revenge. Now, it was a reality.
One of the greatest College Football games that has ever been played took place this Monday Night, in Tampa Bay, Florida. The hype around this rematch, the first since there’s a National Championship game, was indescribable. At the beginning of the game, the likes of Bo Scarbrough on the offense, Ryan Anderson, Jonathan Allen and Rueben Foster on the defense, made it look like it wasn’t even worth the hype.
But Dabo Swinney’s crew came together and never gave up. It didn’t matter that Nick Saban’s teams had 106 wins and 6 losses when leading at halftime, nor that his same teams had 99 wins and ZERO losses when entering the fourth quarter. And, of course, that Saban was undefeated in title matches, 5-0. It sure didn’t matter that Alabama lead the scoreboard during 52 of the 60 minutes of the game (it is noteworthy that during 5:37 of those 8 minutes the score was 0-0).
Deshaun Watson felt like he deserved it. In two Championship games against the Best Defense in recent memory, Watson totalized 841 yards, and 8 touchdowns. Hunter Renfrow, a former walk-on who received his scholarship this year, has 17 receptions for 180 yards and 4 touchdowns in the two Championship games.
Clemson had unfinished business. Clemson had been thinking about this moments since 52 Mondays ago. Clemson, in an amazing, unbelievable game of football, claimed the National Championship for the second time in its history.
This one will be remembered