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Clemson fans cry foul after 300-pound Alabama player catches TD

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The third quarter could not have been any sweeter for Alabama’s Da’Ron Payne in Monday night’s Sugar Bowl.

Any chance the Clemson Tigers had of defeating Alabama in the College Football Playoff semifinal all but disappeared in a five-minute stretch involving two plays where Payne was the star.

Alabama had a 10-3 lead at halftime but got off to a rocky start in the third quarter. Quarterback Jalen Hurts fumbled on the second play of the half, and Clemson converted that turnover into a field goal four plays later to cut the lead to 10-6.

Alabama went three and out on its next drive and was forced to punt. Clemson had crossed into Alabama territory, looking for a potential go-ahead score.

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Facing a second-and-2 from the Alabama 35, Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant dropped back to pass and was hit from behind just as he began to release the ball. The throw fluttered into the hands of Payne, and the 308-pound lineman took off running for a 21-yard return.

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Seven plays later, Payne capped off the Alabama drive by catching a pass in the end zone from Hurts to give the Crimson Tide a 17-6 lead.

Bryant’s pass on the first play of the next drive was intercepted by Mack Wilson and returned for a touchdown, giving Alabama a 24-6 lead, which turned out to be the game’s final score.

Payne’s TD catch was memorable — and controversial, at least in the eyes of some Clemson fans. Replays showed Alabama lineman Quinnen Williams blocking a Clemson defender and pushing him back in to the end zone, preventing him from covering Payne.

Some Clemson fans thought Williams should have been called for offensive pass interference on the play.

According to NCAA rules, a play is not offensive pass interference when a player who is not an eligible receiver “immediately charges and contacts an opponent at a point not more than one yard beyond the neutral zone and maintains the contact for no more than three yards beyond the neutral zone.”

Alabama snapped the ball from the 1-yard line, so the neutral zone extended to the goal line. Williams maintained his block into the end zone but appeared to disengage within the three-yard limit.

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By the time Williams released his block, the pass from Hurts was on its way to Payne, who caught it, toe-tapped in the end zone and then raised his arms in celebration.

For his efforts, Payne was named co-MVP of the game, along with Hurts.

The entire Alabama defense played at an MVP level on Monday, holding Clemson to just 188 total yards and forcing two turnovers. The Tigers managed only two field goals for the evening.

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Scott Kelnhofer is a writer for The Western Journal and Conservative Tribune. A native of Milwaukee, he currently resides in Phoenix.
Scott Kelnhofer is a writer for The Western Journal and Conservative Tribune. He has more than 20 years of experience in print and broadcast journalism. A native of Milwaukee, he has resided in Phoenix since 2012.
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Phoenix, Arizona
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