End of the third quarter: Alabama 24, Clemson 14

January 10, 2017 GMT

TAMPA, Fla. — Hunter Renfrow, as clutch as they come in College Football Playoff championship games.

And yet, unfortunately for Clemson, so is O.J. Howard.

With his momentum-turning 24-yard touchdown catch, Renfrow helped Clemson inch closer on the scoreboard to Alabama – but only briefly, as Howard’s response TD restored the Tide’s lead to 24-14 entering the fourth quarter of the College Football Playoff national championship game.

When the fourth quarter begins, Clemson has the ball in the red zone, looking to again reduce its deficit.

With 7:10 left in the third quarter, the 5-11, 180-pound Renfrow got loose in the middle of the field, took a short pass from Deshaun Watson and evaded a few Tide defenders on his way in for his third touchdown reception against Alabama over the past two years’ worth of national championships. Renfrow had a pair of scores in last year’s 45-40 defeat.

Combined with a touchdown catch in last season’s semifinal vs. Oklahoma, Renfrow has found the end zone four times in four playoff games. Just for comparison, veteran NFL receivers Antonio Brown (two), Julio Jones (two) and A.J. Green (one) have combined for just one more playoff touchdown than Renfrow, who came to Clemson as an undersized walk-on but earned a scholarship in August 2015.

But the Tigers still must address the business of completely erasing a deficit, which they have faced since midway through the first quarter. Howard, a Tide tight end who had five catches for 208 yards and two scores in last year’s title game, got loose for a season-long 68-yard touchdown catch, pushing Alabama’s edge back to double digits.

Alabama is 15 minutes away from defending its national title against Clemson, which is outgaining the Crimson Tide 359-281 through 45 minutes of action.

Alabama is just 2-of-11 on third down, and quarterback Jalen Hurts had just 49 passing yards on 9-of-23 passing before he found Howard wide open. But the Crimson Tide have tallied 164 yards on the ground, the second-highest total Clemson has allowed this season (Louisville.)

Watson is 24-for-38 for 290 yards and a touchdown, with an 8-yard rushing score, through 45 minutes, and he’s got the Tigers on the doorstep of scoring again to open the fourth.

Check back soon for full postgame coverage of the national championship game.