TAMPA -- This time, Deshaun Watson would not be denied.
After finishing as the runner up in last year's College Football Playoff, the Clemson quarterback led the Tigers to a 35-31 win over Alabama to earn a CFP title Monday night at Raymond James Stadium. It required a second-half comeback against a ferocious defense, cementing Watson's reputation as a big-game performer in the most profound way possible.
Watson found Hunter Renfrow for a 2-yard touchdown pass with one second remaining in the game to lift the Tigers to their first national title in 35 years. The quarterback finished 36-of-56 for 420 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran 46 yards and a TD on 21 carries.
It came hard-earned.
The comeback began with Clemson trailing 17-7 when Watson found Renfrow for a 24-yard touchdown pass on a crossing route with 7:10 left in the third quarter. It continued with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Mike Williams with 14 minutes left in the game. And it ended with two Watson-led touchdown drives late in the fourth quarter. Against a defense loaded with NFL talent, Watson engineered an 88-yard touchdown drive and a 68-yard touchdown drive on Clemson's last two possessions. In between, Alabama QB Jalen Hurts broke free for a 30-yard touchdown run to give UA a 31-28 lead with 2:07 remaining.
"No one panicked," Watson said of the late-game heroics. "I walked up to my offensive line, walked up to my wide receivers and I said 'Let's be legendary. Let's be great. God put us here for a reason.' It was just right."
Alabama struck first on a 25-yard touchdown run by Bo Scarbrough, who broke free around the left side for his fifth touchdown of the postseason. Quarterback Jalen Hurts got the drive started with a 20-yard run, and Clemson helped the Tide with a 15-yard personal foul against Clelin Ferrell for roughing Hurts. Scarbrough scored again from 37 yards out in the second quarter to give UA a 14-0 lead, again around the left side of a UA offensive line that opened a wide hole for the 240-pounder. However, he left the game in the second half with a leg injury.
Watson made some outstanding throws, particularly on Clemson's first-half touchdown drive, but he also lost a first-half fumble. While he looked ineffective in stretches of the first half, he played more effectively in the second half when it mattered most, rallying Clemson for 21 fourth-quarter points.