It’s a real shame that the College Football Playoff National Championship Game did not get good ratings last night. If you didn’t tune in then you missed out on an instant classic. The Clemson Tigers and the Alabama Crimson Tide battled back-and-forth for four quarters to decide which team would take home the ugliest trophy in sports and you didn’t even turn it on. Oh well, your loss.
Or, maybe you fell asleep during a fourth quarter that didn’t start until 11:15 and ended sometime after midnight in the east. I can’t say that I blame you but you too missed out on a frantic finish.
Or, maybe you’re one of us. Those who were glued to the four-letter network’s “Megacast” were treated to a tremendous football game between two championship-caliber teams. Yes, Alabama won the game and the national championship but it was undoubtedly well-earned. Clemson played well enough to win, and would’ve on most other nights. The Tide was not to be denied though.
This game had just about everything. The Heisman winner went off. The second runner-up put his team on his back. Unexpected heroes stole the show. A trick play drastically swung the momentum late in the game. There was even a feel-good aspect to the ending. That wasn’t all either, but if we go through everything how are we supposed to make people feel like they missed out? Here are the essential highlights of the biggest, and arguably the best, game of the 2015-16 season:
Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry struck first, shrugging off a defender and scampering 50 yards into the end zone. When the night was over Henry had carried 36 times for 158 yards and three touchdowns. All that and it didn’t even seem like he had impacted the game as he normally does.
DeShaun Watson was the one wowing those watching. He carried the Tigers all night, as he did all season. Scrambling for first downs, extending plays, marching his offense down the field against the best defense in the country, Watson showed us a little bit of every part of his game. Most impressive of all were his two touchdown passes in the first quarter. The first of which was an absolutely perfect throw to the corner of the end zone. The second one was placed where only his guy could catch it.
The guy on the receiving end of those perfect passes was former walk-on Hunter Renfrow. This redshirt freshman came into Monday night with just 26 catches, 404 yards and three touchdowns to his name. What a coming out party it was for him, reeling in seven balls for 88 yards and two scores in the national championship. Renfrow certainly stole the first half headlines.
Another unlikely hero emerged in the second half. Alabama tight end O.J. Howard plays a vital role in the offense even if he doesn’t get the statistical reward he deserves. Howard had only one game with more than four catches this season. He hadn’t scored since November 9, 2013. That is, until he exploded for 208 yards and two touchdowns on five receptions last night. The first touchdown was a brilliantly designed play, called at the opportune time by offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. On the second, Howard was the lucky recipient of some poor communication in Clemson’s secondary. The real highlight of his night, however, was a little screen pass that should’ve resulted in a two-yard loss. Instead, Howard slipped a tackle, turned the corner and tiptoed down the sideline, picking up 63 yards and setting up Alabama’s game-winning touchdown.
By far the most surprising and exciting play of the game came on special teams. An Adam Griffith field goal tied the game at 24 with about 10 and a half minutes left in the game. Then Nick Saban, a notoriously conservative coach, dialed up the trick play that would allow his team to take the lead for good. Griffith pooched one right into the hands of his intended receiver. He kicked it more accurately than most guys can throw it. Clemson was caught off-guard and you could feel the wind shift in favor of the Tide’s sails.
As the confetti fell all around the victorious Alabama players, none must have felt as accomplished as Jake Coker. You want to know what patience is, ask him. This guy’s had to sit in the back seat his entire collegiate career. He started at Florida State where he was redshirted and beat out by EJ Manuel and then Jameis Winston. Then he transferred to Alabama where he was immediately eligible to play because he had already graduated from FSU. Coker competed with Blake Sims for the starting job only to be relegated to backup duty for the fourth year in a row. This year Coker finally got his chance to start but did not play well early in the season. In fact, Cooper Bateman got the start in Alabama’s only loss against Ole Miss. Bateman’s poor play in that game opened the door for Coker yet again. The second half comeback attempt fell just short that night but Coker had won his job back. Fast forward three months and Coker found himself on top of the college football world. We can only imagine the feeling of validation that washed over him after such a journey. His story is one that makes college football so special. You had to feel good for him during his postgame interview where it seemed to sink in what he had accomplished.
Congratulations are in order for Coker, Griffith, Howard, Kiffin and, of course, Saban who has won his fourth national championship in seven years. You can hate on them all you’d like but you can’t deny that Alabama’s current run ranks high in terms of the all-time great dynasties of not just college football, but all major American sports history.
So yeah, you either missed all that or were so enthralled by it that you wanted to recap. Either way, there’s no doubt that the second edition of the College Football Playoff National Championship Game was simply sensational.