With his team clinging to a 31-27 lead with just under eight minutes to go in the national championship on Monday, Alabama running back Kenyan Drake fielded a kickoff and took it 95 yards to the house, eluding a number of Clemson defenders in the process. Drake’s return gave Alabama a 38-27 lead.
Clemson never recovered.
“I just felt like I wanted to make a mark on the game, with it being my last game and (given all) the adversity that I’ve been through the last four years,” Drake said on CBS Sports Radio’s Ferrall on the Bench. “It’s just a testament to a lot of our players. Throughout the last year or so, (we) have battled back from adversity. I feel like I really epitomize that.”
Drake broke his arm in a 31-6 win over Mississippi State on Nov. 14, and missed two games before returning for the SEC Championship against Florida. He was quiet offensively against Clemson – he had one rush for one yard and two catches for 21 yards – but he did plenty of damage on special teams, finishing with a title-game record 196 return yards, including the 95-yard return that more or less iced the game.
“Once I got to the kicker, I didn’t want him tackling me again because he tackled me earlier in the game,” Drake said. “Once I saw green grass, I just tried to run as hard as I could. I’m glad it worked out in the end.”
Indeed, with lead changes, momentum twists, 1,023 total yards and 95 points, Alabama/Clemson was an instant classic. The Tigers scored with 12 seconds to go to pull within 45-40, but the Tide recovered the ensuing onside kick to win their fourth national championship in seven years.
“You can’t really script it any better than that,” Drake said. “I’ve watched national championships growing up and to be a part of this is surreal. Many games have come down to the wire, and to really be a part of it, I can’t really describe it. I’m just glad that at the end of the day, we were on the winning side and I can say I finished my career as an Alabama football player as a national champion.”
Heisman winner Derrick Henry had another monster game was Alabama – 36 carries for 158 yards and three touchdowns – but he was almost overshadowed by tight end O.J. Howard, who had five catches for 208 yards and two touchdowns.
“O.J. is a phenomenal athlete,” Drake said. “He’s always a pivotal part in our game plan. We just have so many athletes on the field that not everybody can get the ball. There’s only one ball in the field of play at any given time, so everybody can’t get the amount of touches they deserve. But big players make big-time plays in big-time games, and he really epitomized that today. I couldn’t be more happier for the guy because he really showed his grit and his humbleness to be in a situation to (make) the biggest plays on the biggest stage.”
Alabama lost to Ole Miss, 43-37, on Sept. 19, before winning its final 12 games – 10 by double digits. The Tide trailed Clemson after the first and third quarters but made more than enough plays in the final 15 minutes to give Nick Saban his fifth national title.
“I appreciate everybody sticking behind us when our back was against the wall,” Drake said. “Everybody doubted us, saying we’re done and the dynasty is over. To be a part of this team, I couldn’t ask for a better bunch of guys to win this game. Earlier in my career, I won a national championship as a freshman. Sometimes I feel like I wasn’t on the field to really win that. But the seniors really left a lasting winning legacy, and we just tried to rebuild it after the last two years after we didn’t quite make it to where we wanted to. To go out as a champion at the end of my career, there’s no better feeling.”