Ahead of ESPN’s re-airing of the College Football Playoff National Championship Game from January 2017 at 7 p.m., Thursday as part of its Throwback Thursday: College Football Classics series, former Clemson receiver Hunter Renfrow joined SportsCenter to reflect on his game-winning touchdown reception against the Crimson Tide that sealed the Tigers’ second national championship and first in more than 35 years.
The 2017 CFP National Championship was the second consecutive matchup of the Tigers and Tide in the sport’s pinnacle game, with Alabama looking for back-to-back national championships. Clemson would take its first lead of the game in the fourth quarter, before Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts’ 30-yard touchdown regained the lead for the Crimson Tide with just over two minutes remaining, setting up the dramatic finish. Trailing 31-28, Watson would lead a nine-play, 68-yard drive which was capped with a two-yard touchdown pass to Renfrow with one second remaining to give Clemson the 35-31 victory.
“It was a wild game,” Renfrow said on SportsCenter. “We’re a no-huddle team, so we kind of had a timeout I think the play before when we threw the fade up there to Mike Williams. But as we got the play call, we knew they were going to be in man coverage 100 percent of the time inside the 5-yard line. So, that’s something we knew going in, and that’s just a play everyone kind of looked at each other and everyone did a great job and Deshaun hit me in stride and it worked out.”
Renfrow said he will never forget the name of the play call that etched his name in Clemson lore – “Paw-Right-Wheel-Rope-Crush,” also known as “Orange Crush.”
Down by 3 points in the final seconds, Dabo Swinney and the Tigers went with a quick-developing play so they would have the opportunity to attempt a game-tying field goal if it didn’t work.
“We had six seconds left and we knew we had to get a rollout in case something went bad, he could throw it away, throw it to the back of the end zone, have a chance for a field goal to tie it up,” Renfrow said. “I actually talked to Coach Swinney last night. He said if we didn’t get it there, we were going to kick the field goal and go to overtime. So, I’m so excited we scored there.”
Following Renfrow’s score with a second remaining, Clemson had to recover an on-side kick attempt from Alabama and then take a knee to end the game.
Renfrow remembers Swinney telling the team the day before the game at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., that it would end with the Tigers in the victory formation.
“It was actually unbelievable just the way things work out,” Renfrow said. “Coach Swinney told us in pregame, our walkthrough the day before … We were overlooking the stadium where we were doing our walkthrough, and he said, ‘Alright, tomorrow night we’re going to take a knee to end the game and we’re going to go out the right way,’ and it just so happened we got the onside kick and we were able to take that knee.”
A former two-star recruit who walked on to Clemson from Socastee, S.C., Renfrow put together one of the most unlikely yet storied careers in Clemson history. He posted College Football Playoff records with 37 receptions and four touchdowns in seven career CFP games and caught two touchdown passes in both the 2015-16 and 2016-17 national championship games, combining for 17 receptions and 180 yards in those two contests.
“It was wild,” Renfrow said, looking back on his performances in the biggest games. “It was nothing that I really did. I was just trying to do my part, and we had so many guys during those games in 2015 and 2016 that made unbelievable plays. The left tackle Mitch Hyatt doesn’t get enough credit. Tyrone Crowder, Taylor Hearn, all the guys … I kind of got some of the glory for having the two touchdowns, but there were so many plays during those two games that could have won us the game. It just came down to that one, so it was awesome and I’m appreciative of those guys for sure.”
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