TAMPA, Fla. — Clemson’s Deshaun Watson looked up at the Raymond James Stadium clock when Alabama’s Jalen Hurts raced 30 yards for the go-ahead touchdown.
“I flashed back to last year when they scored, we scored, and they scored, and we ran out of time,” Watson said. “I saw the two minutes, one second on the clock, and I just smiled. I knew they left too much time on the clock.”
Precisely one second too long, as it turned out.
Watson hit Hunter Renfrow with a 2-yard touchdown pass with one second remaining to lift the Tigers to a 35-31 win over the Crimson Tide in the College Football Playoff championship game on Monday night.
The victory avenges Clemson’s 45-40 loss to Alabama in another see-saw classic battle in last year’s CFP championship game in Glendale, Ariz.
The game-winning touchdown on Monday night will take its place in history among the more dramatic plays in championship games, capping the Tigers’ nine-play, 68-yard drive against the Tide’s celebrated defense.
Watson, 36-of-56 passing for 420 yards and three touchdowns along with 21 carries for 43 yards and a touchdown, said he recognized exactly what Alabama’s defense was going to do.
“I just kind of slowed down the moment and smiled to myself, because I knew we were inside the 5, and I knew they would play straight cover-zero man (coverage),” Watson said. “I knew if (Artavis Scott) makes his block and gets the pick, Renfrow would get in the end zone.”
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney has expressed complete confidence in Watson throughout the season, and he said he knew he would get it done in the closing moments.
“We were playing to win, we were putting it in Number 4s hands,” Swinney said. “He’s the best player in the country. If anyone doubts that, it’s ridiculous.
“He didn’t lose out on the Heisman, the Heisman lost out on him. They lost out on an opportunity to be attached to him forever,” he said. “This was his Heisman tonight, and this is what he came to Clemson to do. He’s been an unbelievable player, leader and ambassador, and he’s set the bar for everyone coming through.”
Watson, who graduated in three years, announced it was the final game of his collegiate career and he’ll next head to the Senior Bowl in Mobile to showcase himself for the upcoming NFL draft.