Deshaun Watson took the snap, rolled right, and with one of the easiest throws he had to make all night, completed Clemson's journey to the top of college football. A frantic fourth quarter and a championship rematch between Clemson and Alabama was decided with one second left on a 2-yard touchdown toss to Hunter Renfrow. "I couldn't hear the crowd," Watson said, per the AP. "I just felt at peace." Watson and the Tigers dethroned the defending champs and became the first team to beat Nick Saban's Alabama dynasty in a national title game, taking down the top-ranked Crimson Tide 35-31 Monday night in the College Football Playoff. A 35-year title drought for Clemson is over; the Tigers are national champions for the first time since 1981.
A year after Alabama won its fourth title under Saban with a classic 45-40 win in Arizona, Clemson (14-1) denied the Tide (14-1) an unprecedented fifth championship in eight seasons in what Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said "has to be one of the greatest games of all time." The lead changed hands three times in the fourth quarter, with the Tigers leading 28-24 with 4:38 left. The Tide responded with a 30-yard touchdown pass to make it 31-28 with 2:07 left. But Watson got the ball last. "I just smiled right when they scored," Watson said, per the Tampa Bay Times. "I just told my guys, hey, let's be legendary, let's go be great." Playing in his final college game, the junior quarterback threw for 420 yards and three touchdowns, battling through four sacks. "Eight years ago we set out to put Clemson back on top," Swinney said. "We came up a little short last year, but today on top of the mountain, the Clemson flag is flying."