Alabama defensive tackle Da’Ron Payne took the spotlight in the Crimson Tide’s 24-6 victory over Clemson in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans on Monday.

Alabama vs. Clemson Sugar Bowl game score

In the third quarter of the New Year’s Day matchup at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the 308-pound Payne intercepted the No. 1 Tigers’ (12-2) quarterback Kelly Bryant when a hit forced a weak throw. Payne returned it 21 yards and drew a 15-yard penalty when he was brought down by a horse-caller tackle.

Seven plays later, on second-and-goal from the 1, Payne lined up in the offensive backfield and raced in the flat to the corner of the end zone. Jalen Hurts then tossed him a pass and Payne tapped his toes for the score.

Ensuing video replays revealed a blatant offensive pass interference penalty committed by No. 4 Alabama (12-1) that went uncalled.

The Crimson Tide will now face Georgia in the national championship game in Atlanta on Jan. 8. The Bulldogs defeated Oklahoma 54-48 in double overtime in the other NCAA semifinal game on Monday, the Rose Bowl that was held in Pasadena, California. Georgia’s Lorenzo Carter blocked an Oklahoma field-goal attempt in overtime, and the Bulldogs scored on the next possession to win the contest.

Alabama has now reached six national title games — and three in a row — in head coach Nick Saban’s 11-year tenure. Saban has won five national championships as head coach, one short of Bear Bryant’s record.

The Crimson Tide and the Tigers had met in the national championship game the past two seasons, with Alabama winning two years ago and Clemson taking the title last year.

“These guys have worked hard for a long time to get back in this position because of what happened to us last year when we got here, so now we’ve got to focus on trying to finish,” Saban said in a post-game television interview.

 Among the other incredible moments in a Jan. 1 Bowl Game came in the final minute of No. 10 UCF’s 34-27 victory over No. 7 Auburn in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl. Knights (13-0) freshman defensive back Antwan Collier intercepted Tigers (10-4) quarterback Jarrett Stidham with 24 seconds remaining in the game.

That was the Knights’ second key pick in the final six minutes. UCF inside linebacker Chequan Burkett also intercepted Stidham as he attempted to throw across the middle on a second-and-5 at Auburn’s 40. Burkett jumped in front of the ball and redirected it to Auburn’s end zone for a touchdown to put the Knights up 34-20 with six minutes left.

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