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Coach Dabo Swinney’s squad beat Nick Saban and Alabama (14-1) for the second time in three meetings in the CFP title game.

A.J. Terrell had an interception return for a touchdown for Clemson on Alabama’s opening drive. Heisman Trophy runner-up Tua Tagovailoa threw another interception and the Tide suffered their most lopsided loss ever under coach Nick Saban.

A.J. Terrell had an interception return for a touchdown for Clemson on Alabama’s opening drive. Heisman Trophy runner-up Tua Tagovailoa threw another interception and the Tide suffered their most lopsided loss ever under coach Nick Saban.

Clemson needed a big performance to unseat defending champion Alabama. The Tigers got plenty of them from start to finish.

From freshman Justyn Ross and Trevor Lawrence on offense to an experienced defensive front and turnover -hungry secondary, Clemson stacked up big play after big play to overwhelm typically unflappable Alabama 44-16 on Monday night for its second national title in three seasons.

“It was more than everything I expected it to be,” said Ross, the 6-foot-4 receiver who had six catches for 153 yards.

Ross dazzled the crowd with several acrobatic receptions. His 74-yard catch and run put Clemson ahead 28-16 in the second quarter while his one-armed grab in the third quarter kept Alabama from getting the ball back and regaining momentum.

“It was unbelievable,” he said. “I’m still shocked about everything.”

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Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney celebrates with players during the second half of the NCAA college football playoff championship game against Alabama, Monday, Jan. 7, 2019, in Santa Clara, Calif.

So is defending champion Alabama (14-1), which figured to have more than enough playmakers to up with the Tigers. Instead, it was Clemson that seized every opportunity.

Cornerback A.J. Terrell got it rolling with a 44-yard pick six on Tua Tagovailoa’s third pass of the game and Clemson’s defense shut down hopes of a Crimson Tide rally with three unlikely stops on downs in the second half.

“That set the tone,” Clemson All-American defensive end Clelin Ferrell said of Terrell’s TD. “There was no Plan B. There was no sitting back waiting as a defense. We were just going to try and attack. That’s all.”

It was an unexpected ‘Bama beatdown by the Tigers (15-0), who showed poise, strength on the offensive line and speed on defense to manhandle Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide (14-1).

“We came in with the mindset that we were going to play on the balls of our feet and we were going to attack. And we did. We attacked the whole night,” coach Dabo Swinney said.

The two teams swapped big plays early, something of a surprise with the two stout defenses on the field. Lawrence hit Tee Higgins with a 62-yard pass on third-and-14 deep in Tiger territory and Travis Etienne followed with a 17-yard TD run. Tagovailoa’s second interception in the first half, this one by Trayvon Mullen, led to another Clemson score and a 28-16 lead.

In the second half, Ross and the defense took over.

Ross, an Alabama native who spurned his home state school for Clemson, made several outstanding and timely grabs. He broke free for a 74-yard TD catch and run that put the Tigers ahead 37-16. On a third-and-12, Ross grabbed the ball with just his right hand for 37 yards a Tide-deflating first down.

Lawrence said he knew the Tigers were in charge “when Justyn made that crazy catch down there, I said ‘We got this. It’s over.'”

Alabama was going nowhere against Clemson when it mattered most. Backup defensive tackle Nyles Pinckney stuffed Alabama holder Mac Jones on a fake field goal try that ended far short of its goal.

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Clemson’s Justyn Ross celebrates his touchdown catch during the second half of the NCAA college football playoff championship game against Alabama Monday, Jan. 7, 2019, in Santa Clara, Calif.

Linebacker Tre Lamar and safety Tanner Muse stopped Tagovailoa a yard short on fourth-and-3 on Clemson’s 14. And with Alabama hoping for any sort of momentum swing, Ferrell stopped Tagovailoa for a 7-yard loss on fourth down near the goal line.

By then, the Crimson Tide had little left to give.

“Anytime you’ve got a team like (Alabama), you’ve got to knock them out,” Ferrell said. “That was our mindset.”

Lawrence, a freshman, was supposed to be rattled by Alabama’s fearsome defensive front. Instead, he threw for 347 yards and three touchdowns, looking as calm and cool has he has since winning the job in late September. He was named the offensive player of the game.

“It’s been an awesome journey. It’s really unbelievable,” Lawrence said.

If one is trying to track down Christian Wilkins around any part of Clemson’s sprawling football facilities, the best path is to simply look for the smiles and follow the sound of laughter.

The All-American, all everything, defensive tackle has served as the pied piper of joy in and around the Tigers’ ultra-successful program for most all of his four years on campus. A model of how to live the most fulfilling and well-rounded student-athlete experience, Wilkins has made sure to always take the soulful light that burns bright within and reflect it onto anybody within his daily existence.

“I can’t recall him ever having a bad day, to be honest,” defensive end Austin Bryant said. “I guess he doesn’t have them. It’s just his personality, he always wants to be the life of the party. It’s just really good to have his energy in the room.”

Arguably the most impressive facet of Wilkins’ college career has been his mastery of time management. Apparently not a second in any day is wasted if you consider what he’s done off the field to complement his elite achievements on game days.

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Wilkins, who turned 23 just over two weeks ago, became the first Clemson football scholarship player to graduate (with a communications degree) in 2½ years. He added a master’s degree in athletic leadership at last month’s second graduation. He’s a three-time ACC All-Academic selection and two time Academic All-District choice while never posting below a 3.0 GPA.

@cwilkins42

Those exploits helped him become the first Clemson player to win the William V. Campbell Trophy, presented by the National Football Foundation to the nation’s top scholar-athlete and widely referred to as the “academic Heisman.”

Combine all his school-related activities — Wilkins even spent time this offseason as a substitute teacher at a local middle school — with his considerable football resume and it’s been nothing short of remarkable. And to think, Wilkins could be completing year one of a multimillion-dollar NFL contract had he decided to leave school after last season as so many expected he’d do. He remains projected as a solid first-round pick this spring.

“I think he made a decision to come back and he’s been so intentional in everything,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “I think he’s truly enjoyed the entire journey, all of it. I think he’s been so committed to what he came back to do. You don’t make a decision like that unless you really love where you are, who you’re with, and what you do. And last year he was torn (with making a decision) and I think it was heavy on him, whereas now he knows this is it.”

Wilkins added, “It’s been everything I wanted out of this season, everything I expected and more, on the field and off the field. I’ve had the best time I’ve had in my four years here and I’m just trying to leave my mark and leave a legacy.”

Swinney points out the lineman turned fullback Dexter Lawrence doing everything from playing safety in the team’s spring game to being among the players who volunteered the week of homecoming to hand out pizza to those constructing the parade floats. Of course Wilkins lived the ultimate lineman’s dream when he scored two touchdowns this season as a tailback in the team’s “jumbo package” running behind Lawrence. He was the program’s first defensive lineman to rush for a touchdown — and this is the school that produced William “The Refrigerator” Perry, who ran one in during a Super Bowl.

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“He has just had a blast,” Swinney said. “He’s one of the best leaders I’ve ever been around, just a dynamic personality, but he’s also a great football player and has taken such great care of his body. (On the field) he’s been awesome, disruptive and consistent. I think he just loves the whole college experience.”

Wilkins’ 58 career games played are the most in school history and he’s a three time first-team All-American by multiple outlets and a three time All-ACC first-team choice. He’s fifth on the team with 53 tackles, second with 14 for loss, and third with 5½ sacks. Clemson leads the nation in fewest points allowed per game (12.9) and is second in both total yards allowed (274.6) and rushing yards (92.6). The Tigers are 54-4 with four playoff berths and now three national championship appearances over Wilkins’ career.