DESHAUN WATSON THREW a two-yard touchdown pass to Hunter Renfrow with one second to play Monday to lift Clemson to a 35-31 victory over Alabama in college football’s championship game in Tampa, Florida.
With the dramatic win the Tigers avenged their 45-40 loss to the Crimson Tide in last year’s final at Glendale, Arizona.
Clemson quarterback Watson completed 36 of 56 passes for 420 yards and three touchdowns.
Four players — Jordan Leggett, Mike Williams, Deon Cain and Renfrow — topped 90 receiving yards for Clemson.
Alabama’s freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts had given the Crimson Tide — unbeaten in 14 prior games this season — a 31-28 lead with 2:07 left on a 30-yard touchdown run.
But Watson responded by piloting a nine-play, 68-yard drive for the win saying he told his teammates in the huddle not to panic because “we were built for moments like this.”
Clemson added a second national championship to the title they won in 1981.
“Thirty-five years,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “Hopefully we can win a few more before they put me out to pasture. I’m so thankful. I’m proud of these seniors. They’ve been unbelievable, the way they worked and fought all year.”
The Tigers resisted college football’s strongest powerhouse to end their drought.
Alabama were vying for a fifth title in eight years and for much of the night they had the upper hand.
The Crimson Tide led 14-0, 17-7 and, to start the fourth quarter, 24-14.
But Watson, a two-time Heisman Trophy finalist who is a likely top-five pick in the NFL draft later this year, withstood the punishing Alabama defense and produced his best when it mattered most.
“They made the plays and we didn’t,” said Alabama coach Nick Saban, who was looking to join legendary Bear Bryant as the only coaches to win six national championships. “I’m sorry for our team that we didn’t finish it better.”
Watson’s four-yard pass to Mike Williams with 14 minutes remaining pulled the Tigers within 24-21.
Clemson took a 28-24 lead with 4:38 left in the fourth quarter when Wayne Gallman powered in from one yard out.
It was the first time all season Alabama had trailed in a fourth quarter.
“I knew they wouldn’t quit,” Swinney said. “If they focused all night, they’d be OK.”
Watson seemed barely able to take it in.
“I’m speechless now,” he said after he and his teammates ended Alabama’s 26-game winning streak.
“We’re national champion and it’s amazing. We worked so hard for it and we fell short last year… I don’t even know what to say.”