Saturday, April 21, 2018
Colleges

Fennelly: Clemson completes a comeback for the ages

TAMPA — Yabba Dabo Do!

Yabba Deshaun Do, Too.

They came all the way back.

Dabo Swinney and his Clemson Tigers won 13 games and made it all the way back to the national championship game Monday night.

Then they came all the way back to win it all.

Down 14-0, then 17-7, then 24-14, against an Alabama defense that was reportedly one for the ages. They took a 28-24 lead. And when Alabama took the lead back, Clemson took it back again.

Can we get these teams to play for the national championship every year?

The final score: Clemson 35-31.

Deshaun Watson. Now he mattered.

He was the difference.

He was everything.

The Tigers' dual-threat quarterback led his team from behind.

This time, he closed the deal.

He threw to teammate Hunter Renfrow for the winning touchdown with one second left — one second.

And the Alabama dynasty was beaten.

And the Alabama defense for the ages was beaten.

And Deshaun Watson left college football a national champion, if in fact he leaves for the NFL.

Running, throwing, leaping, spinning in the air like a whirlybird after a big Alabama hit — he did it all, and Clemson has its first national championship in 35 years. He made big play after big play. He refused to lose.

Watson again threw for 400 yards in a title game against Alabama.

Again.

Deshaun Watson mattered.

With 4:38 left, Clemson running back Wayne Gallman scored from a yard out to give the Tigers the 28-24 lead.

This after Watson nearly ran it in with a great leaping play.

This after he led his team downfield, hitting two big passes, including a huge one to Mike Williams.

Alabama, a proud defending champion, roared back, with true freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts running for a 30-yard TD.

There was 2:07 left.

And it was Deshaun Watson time. Again.

He led and he led.

Elementary, at least to Dear Watson.

Deshaun Watson often refused to lose in his career, if in fact his career is over. He went 32-3 as a starter.

And he walked off a champion.

He threw for three touchdowns and ran for another Monday.

He led and he led.

The best player in college football, the one who finished second in Heisman Trophy voting to Louisville's Lamar Jackson, came away with a bigger prize.

This is the way Watson and his Tigers wanted it.

Don't let them tell you any different.

This is what they wanted, another crack at the Crimson Tide, who beat them 45-40 for the title last season.

Clemson wanted another crack at the dynasty.

Watson, who was so spectacular last season against Alabama in the title game, with 478 yards of offense and four touchdown passes, started slowly but was spectacular again when it mattered.

It was a Clemson kind of story. Swinney's Tigers came so far to get here, dodging disaster early in the season, games they probably should have lost (N.C. State most notably) then overcoming a loss to Pittsburgh. By playoff time, Watson and the Tigers were roaring and destroyed Urban Meyer and Ohio State in a semifinal.

All along, they wanted another shot at No. 1.

They wanted Alabama.

Beat the best and be the best.

The quality of this game rose wildly after halftime, and one of the reasons was that the quality of Watson's rose.

Swinney rightly sang his kids' praises in the leadup.

"So it takes somebody to just kind of take that step, and these guys have had the heart and guts to do it," Swinney said last week.

Deshaun Watson personified that as much as any Tiger.

He came as far as anyone.

He led more than anyone.

And now he's a champion.

 
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