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Alabama, Georgia to play for College Football Playoff championship with Sugar, Rose bowl wins

NEW ORLEANS — The rubber match of the Alabama-Clemson trilogy was a total dud compared to the teams’ previous two meetings.

Except to the Crimson Tide defense, which will remember it as a thing of beauty.

In a game where every yard was a struggle, the ‘Bama defenders took matters into their own hands, scoring a pair of touchdowns just 13 seconds apart in the third quarter to turn an offensive slog into a 24-6 rout of defending national champion Clemson in the Sugar Bowl semifinal game Monday night.

It was quite a contrast to their last two meetings, both high-scoring classics with the national title on the line, not to mention the Rose Bowl semifinal that preceded it. Georgia knocked off Oklahoma 54-48 in a double-overtime thriller that wasn’t decided until the Alabama was on its second possession in the Big Easy.

There would be no drama in the nightcap. With Deshaun Watson off to the NFL, top-ranked Clemson (12-2) simply had no answer for Nick Saban’s latest group of defensive standouts. The Crimson Tide’s win set up an all-Southeastern Conference showdown for the national title — with Saban matched against his former defensive coordinator, Georgia coach Kirby Smart.

Clemson was fortunate to be down only 10-3 at halftime against the fourth-ranked Tide (12-1), and actually closed the gap with a field goal after Jalen Hurts fumbled on the first play of the second half.

But any thoughts of a Tiger rally were snuffed out by the time the third quarter was done.

It began with 308-pound defensive tackle Da’Ron Payne picking off a wobbly pass, the ball fluttering through the air after besieged Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant was hit as a threw — a familiar sight on this night.

Payne rumbled 21 yards on the return, even showing off an impressive open-field move that eluded running back Travis Etienne’s attempted tackle, and drew a 15-yard personal foul penalty when Tremayne Anchrum yanked him down with a horse collar.

After Alabama drove to a first down at the Clemson 1, Payne re-entered the game — presumably to add another big body for blocking purposes. That’s certainly what Clemson was thinking, totally biting when Hurts faked the handoff.

Payne slipped open near the right pylon and hauled in the touchdown pass, even managing to get both feet down before the celebration commenced beyond the sideline.

A bit shell-shocked by that turn of events, Clemson was thoroughly demoralized after its next offensive play. Bryant’s pass deflected off the hands of Deon Cain and was intercepted by linebacker Mack Wilson, who returned it 18 yards for another touchdown.

Just like that, Alabama had a 24-6 lead.

They could’ve called it right then.

The Tide, which began the season in Atlanta beating Florida State, will return to Mercedes-Benz Stadium next Monday night to face No. 3 Georgia and give Saban another shot at matching Bear Bryant’s record six national titles.

No. 3 Georgia 54, No. 2 Oklahoma 48, 2 OT

PASADENA, Calif. — Sony Michel burst through the line for a 27-yard touchdown run to give No. 3 Georgia a victory against No. 2 Oklahoma, winning the first overtime Rose Bowl and sending the Bulldogs to the College Football Playoff championship game.

Michel, who had a fumble in the fourth quarter returned for a go-ahead Oklahoma touchdown, ran for 181 yards and three scores for the Bulldogs (13-1), but none bigger than the last one in the second overtime.

In the final game of one of the great college careers, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield threw for 287 yards and two touchdowns, and caught a touchdown pass that gave the Sooners a 17-point lead with 6 seconds left in the first half.

But the Heisman Trophy winner could not get the Sooners into the end zone in the first overtime when a touchdown would have ended the game.

The Bulldogs will play Alabama on Jan. 8 for the national championship in Atlanta, about 90 miles from their campus — with a chance to win their first national title since 1980.

The first overtime Rose Bowl was also the highest scoring, surpassing last year’s 52-49 USC victory against Penn State. There was a lot more on the line in this one, which will go down as one of the greatest Granddaddies of Them All.