CRAWFORD | Special teams decide special game, Alabama tops Clems - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Special teams decide special game, Alabama tops Clemson 45-40 in title game

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This dive into the end zone by Alabama's Kenyan Drake capped a 95-yard TD return that helped put the College Football playoff championship game away for Alabama. (ESPN screen shot) This dive into the end zone by Alabama's Kenyan Drake capped a 95-yard TD return that helped put the College Football playoff championship game away for Alabama. (ESPN screen shot)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- This one was beyond the hype. Alabama came into Monday night's College Football Playoff championship game against Clemson a 7-point favorite and the heavy favorite of most football pundits.

But the Crimson Tide had to come from behind in the fourth quarter against Clemson, erasing a 24-21 deficit with two monumental special teams plays -- an onside kick that set up the go-ahead touchdown, then a 95-yard kickoff return touchdown by Kenyan Drake -- boosting Alabama to a 45-40 victory.

Clemson had not lost a game in which it led heading into the fourth quarter in 51 games, and it got brilliant play from junior quarterback Deshaun Watson, who set himself up as a Heisman Trophy frontrunner for next season with 405 yards passing and four touchdowns to go with 73 yards rushing, but his play wasn't enough.

Alabama simply had too much firepower late. Crimson Tide quarterback, Jake Coker, who through three quarters was struggling, caught fire after completing an unlikely third-down heave to ArDarius Stewart that covered 38 yards and led to the game-tying field goal.

Seconds later, Alabama coach Nick Saban rolled the dice and got a perfectly executed onside kick, executed perfectly by Adam Griffith and recovered by Marlon Humphrey, setting up the go-ahead TD. (Click box score to enlarge.)

"It was a tough game," Saban told ESPN immediately afterward. "You have to give Clemson players a lot of credit. They've got a good team. This was a great challenge for us. I am so proud of our players, though, the way they competed, especially in the second half. We didn't seem to have the juice like we had against Michigan State (in the semifinal), but they fought and fought, and battled and battled. Obviously we didn't play great on defense, but the onside kick was huge, it was a great kick by Griff, and I think that changed the momentum of the game, and our guys finished it. . . . Special teams really did it for us."

Clemson wasn't done, driving for a field goal. Then Drake turned in his long TD return, and Clemson was in catch-up mode with not enough time to finish the job. After driving late, Alabama got a one-yard run from Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry, with 44 seconds left, to finish it off. Henry finished with 158 yards on 36 carries, with three touchdowns.

The Crimson Tide got two wide-open touchdown catches by tight end OJ Howard, who had caught a TD pass since 2013 but finished the game with 208 yards on five catches. Coker completed 16 of 25 passes for 335.

Watson led Clemson 68 yards in 6 plays and 55 seconds even after Alabama's final TD, but it wasn't enough.

For Saban, it was a fifth national championship, just one shy of the record six held by legendary Alabama coach Paul "Bear" Bryant.

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