Derrick Henry, O.J. Howard and Kenyan Drake hit No. 1 Clemson with long touchdowns, and No. 2 Alabama outlasted the dynamic play of Deshaun Watson to win the College Football Playoff championship 45-40 on Monday night.
With 10:34 left in the fourth quarter and Alabama having just tied the game at 24-24, Saban took a gamble to try to keep the ball away from Watson. He called for an onside kick called Pop Kick from Adam Griffith and Alabama defensive back Marlon Humphrey caught it over the shoulder at midfield.
Moments later, Alabama took back the lead for good. For the second time, Clemson (14-1) lost track of the tight end Howard in coverage and Jake Coker hit him in stride deep for a 51-yard touchdown to make it 31-24 with 9:45 left.
Clemson and Watson proved to be every bit Alabama's equal. The Tigers just kept coming.
Watson led Clemson to a field goal to make it 31-27.
Drake broke free and streaked down the sideline for a 95-yard kickoff return touchdown, diving the last 5 yards to the pylon.
Watson threw his third touchdown pass to make it 38-33 with 4:40 left, and then Alabama went back to its workhorse Heisman Trophy winner. Henry plunged into the end zone for his third touchdown of the game to make it 45-33 with 1:07 left.
Watson threw another touchdown pass to cap a wild 40-point fourth quarter, but would not get another chance. Clemson's onside kick went out of bounds. Coker took a knee and after a two-year drought that felt like eternity in Tuscaloosa, Alabama was back on top.
Watson gave the Tide all it could handle, throwing for 405 yards and four touchdowns, and conjured up memories of Vince Young's miraculous performance for Texas in the 2006 Rose Bowl that derailed Southern California's dynasty.
The sophomore, who finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting, had 478 total yards against a loaded Tide defense and bested Young's 467 yards against the Trojans. But Watson couldn't finish the job the way Young did in Pasadena, California, and win the national title.