Orlando, Fla. — Deshaun Watson’s mission is not over.
The Heisman Trophy hopeful and third-ranked Clemson Tigers are ready to return to the College Football Playoff and try to resolve some unfinished business from last season.
Watson bolstered his candidacy for the sport’s biggest individual award by passing for three touchdowns and running for two more to lead the Tigers (12-1, No. 3 CFP) to a 42-35 victory over No. 19 Virginia Tech in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game Saturday night.
Winning consecutive league titles for the first time in 28 years likely will send coach Dabo Swinney and his players back to the four-team College Football Playoff for the second straight year, providing Watson with an opportunity to resolve unfinished business from last January, when the Tigers lost to Alabama in the national championship game.
“What a blessing to be a part of this journey,” Swinney said, flanked by Watson. “This guy is the best player in the country, and it isn’t close.”
The Clemson star completed 23 of 34 passes for 288 yards, including TDs of 21 and 10 yards to Jordan Leggett and 15 yards to Hunter Renfrow for a 42-28 lead midway through the fourth quarter. He also rushed for 85 yards on 17 attempts for the Tigers. They’ve won back-to-back ACC titles for the first time since winning three straight from 1986-88.
Watson’s Virginia Tech counterpart, Jerod Evans, was just as impressive. The 6-foot-3, 238-pounder ran for two touchdowns and rallied the Hokies from a 21-point deficit to make it close at the end.
The Hokies (9-4, No. 23 CFP) scored on three straight possessions, trimming what was once a 35-14 deficit to seven points on Evans’ 5-yard run early in the fourth quarter and Cam Phillips’ 26-yard TD reception with just under 6 minutes remaining.
Virginia Tech got the ball back with a chance to force overtime. Evans drove his team to the Clemson 23, where the drive stalled when Tigers cornerback Cordrea Tankersley intercepted a pass on fourth-and-6.
“They got here for a reason,” Swinney said of Virginia Tech. “We just couldn’t put them away.”