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Clemson Wins National Championship in Upset of Alabama

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In the days before Monday night’s classic national championship, Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney was asked over and over a question that has become familiar in college football: How do you beat Alabama? “How do you eat an elephant?” he said. “One bite at a time.” Alabama was the sport’s biggest, fattest, most inedible elephant. And yet Clemson took bite after bite until, on the final play of the fourth quarter, it became the first school all season to devour college football’s No. 1-ranked team.

No. 2 seed Clemson upset the reigning champions, 35-31, in the College Football Playoff national championship on Monday night with a stunning second-half comeback capped by a go-ahead touchdown with exactly one second left. The final minutes turned out to be worth the four hours that came before them—particularly that last play. The play is named “Crush” in the Clemson playbook, though some Tigers coaches now say it will be known as “Orange Crush.” Clemson was trailing Alabama, 31-28, but had marched to the 2-yard line with six seconds remaining when it dared to take one more snap before settling for a field goal to force overtime. Swinney wanted a shot to win in regulation.

His offensive coordinators called for Crush—a “rub route” to football experts and a “pick play” to everyone else—because they thought it would result in a quick, safe throw. The worst thing that could happen was an incomplete pass with time left on the clock for a tying field goal. The best thing that could happen was a title-winning touchdown. Not wanting to give away the idea until the last possible moment, Clemson disguised the play until a receiver motioned into the right formation. Alabama’s defense didn’t recognize what was happening.

The dazzling Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson took the snap. One wide receiver, Artavis Scott, started outside and sprinted inside. Watson rolled to his right and tossed an easy pass toward the front of the end zone to the receiver who had been freed by Scott’s pick: a former walk-on named Hunter Renfrow. Renfrow’s catch sent the orange sections of Raymond James Stadium into utter delirium. It capped a nine-play, 68-yard drive that will be forever remembered in a South Carolina college town. And it won Clemson its first national championship since 1981.

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