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The Latest: Alabama strikes first, takes 7-0 lead vs Sooners

December 30, 2018

The Latest on the College Football Playoff semifinals at the Cotton and Orange Bowls (all times EST):

8:25 p.m.

Alabama caught the first break, and scored the first touchdown of the Orange Bowl.

Damien Harris barreled in from the 1-yard line for a 7-0 Crimson Tide lead over Oklahoma, scoring one play after nearly fumbling the ball away to the Sooners.

A lengthy review determined that Harris’ elbow was down before he lost possession, after officials initially said it was a fumble recovered by Oklahoma’s Kenneth Murray and a takeaway for the Sooners.

Harris got the ball on the next snap, and the Tide struck first.

Tua Tagovailoa opened the game with a 50-yard pass to DeVonta Smith, meaning this CFP started the same way as last year’s national title game ended — Tagovailoa connecting with Smith. That was the start of a seven-play, 75-yard drive by Alabama.

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8:10 p.m.

Top-ranked Alabama and fourth-ranked Oklahoma are squaring off for the right to go to Santa Clara, California and face second-ranked Clemson in the College Football Playoff championship game.

Oklahoma won the toss, deferred to the second half and that meant the Tide and quarterback Tua Tagovailoa took the field first.

The Tide apparently couldn’t wait to get started: Coach Nick Saban and a few dozen of his players sprinted onto the turf a few seconds before the planned blast-of-fire and puff-of-smoke to accompany their entrance happened.

Everyone in the stands, it seemed, was in crimson — the dominant color for both schools, and both end zones were painted in that color. The Tide donned crimson jerseys, Oklahoma wore white.

— Tim Reynolds, Miami Gardens, Florida

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7:45 p.m.

Clemson is heading to the College Football Playoff championship game for the third time in four seasons.

True freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence threw for 327 yards and three touchdowns as the No. 2 Tigers overwhelmed No. 3 Notre Dame 30-3 in the Cotton Bowl on Saturday.

The Tigers (14-0) are waiting to find out if they will play No. 1 Alabama in the title game again — they split title games at the end of the 2015 and 2016 seasons. The Crimson Tide play No. 4 Oklahoma in the other CFP semifinal, at the Orange Bowl on Saturday night.

Lawrence had all three of his TD passes in the second quarter, including two in the final 1:44 of the first half. Lawrence completed 27 of 39 passes, while fellow freshman Justyn Ross had six catches for 148 yards and two touchdowns.

Travis Etienne ran 14 times for 109 yards, including a 62-yard touchdown for Clemson.

Notre Dame (12-1), which won its last national championship in 1988, was in the College Football Playoff for the first time. The Irish have lost the last eight times when getting into bowls that make up the New Year’s Six games — or the former BCS national championship. All but one of those has been by double digits, including by four touchdowns to Alabama in the BCS title game nearly six years ago.

— Stephen Hawkins, Arlington, Texas

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7 p.m.

Clemson is a step closer to another College Football Playoff championship game.

Travis Etienne has raced 62 yards for a touchdown with 2:04 left in the third quarter of the semifinal game Saturday at the Cotton Bowl, putting the No. 2 Tigers up 30-3 over No. 3 Notre Dame.

The Fighting Irish had allowed only five plays of 40 yards or more while going 12-0 in the regular season. Clemson has three such plays — all for touchdowns.

The Tigers are trying to get to the College Football Playoff title game for the third time in four years. They lost to Alabama three seasons ago, and beat the Crimson Tide for the national title the following season.

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5:55 p.m.

Clemson is halfway to the national championship game for the third time in four years.

Freshmen Trevor Lawrence and Justyn Ross hooked up for two long touchdown passes, and Tee Higgins made a nifty catch off a deflection in the end zone and the No. 2 Tigers are up 23-3 over No. 3 Notre Dame at halftime of the Cotton Bowl.

The winner of the College Football Playoff semifinal game will play for the national championship against No. 1 Alabama or No. 4 Oklahoma, who play later Saturday in the Orange Bowl.

Higgins made a one-handed grab off a pass deflected by a defender for a 19-yard score with 2 seconds left in the half.

Ross caught a 42-yard TD with 1:44 left in the first half, after an early 52-yard scoring catch from Lawrence earlier in the second quarter. Clemson went 80 yards on four plays in 46 seconds for its final score after a Notre Dame punt.

Lawrence is 19-of-26 passing for 264 yards with three TDs, increasing his season total to 27. Ross has five catches for 137 yards.

Notre Dame’s defense had allowed only two TD passes in its last six regular-season games.

Irish quarterback Ian Book is 11-of-20 passing for 107 yards, accounting for most of Notre Dame’s 141 total yards. Book also had a fumble that led to a Clemson field goal.

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5:05 p.m.

Clemson freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence’s 25th touchdown pass of the season has put the No. 2 Tigers back ahead of No. 3 Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl on Saturday.

Justyn Ross caught the pass near the 20, shed a Notre Dame defender and then stiff-armed through another to get into the end zone for a 52-yard touchdown that made it 9-3 with 12:50 left in the second quarter. The extra point attempt was blocked.

The true freshman quarterback made a nice throw that the well-defended Ross was able to grab.

Clemson is trying to reach the College Football Playoff championship game for the third time in four seasons

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4:45 p.m.

No. 3 Notre Dame quickly responded to tie Clemson in the Cotton Bowl at 3-3.

Justin Yoon kicked a 28-yard goal with 4:31 left in the first quarter. On the ensuing kickoff, Notre Dame nearly forced a fumble inside the Clemson 20-yard line but replay showed the ball was out of bounds — barely.

The Fighting Irish went 66 yards on 10 plays on the ensuing drive after No. 2 Clemson converted Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book’s fumble into Greg Huegel’s 40-yard field goal.

This is the first time two unbeaten teams have meet in the Cotton Bowl since Jan. 1, 1948. That game between SMU and Penn State ended in a 13-13 tie.

Of course, Saturday’s College Football Playoff semifinal can’t end in a tie.

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4:35 p.m.

No. 2 Clemson has taken a 3-0 lead over Notre Dame in Saturday’s Cotton Bowl on Greg Huegel’s 40-yard field goal with 8:35 left in the first quarter.

The field goal capped a nine-play, 31-yard drive set up after Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book fumbled.

Book was getting tackled when the ball came out. The ball wasn’t initially ruled a turnover, but after a replay review the ball was given to the Tigers.

— Schuyler Dixon, Arlington, Texas

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4:25 p.m.

Clark the eagle has finally landed at the Cotton Bowl.

The eagle that flew during the national anthem Saturday before the playoff semifinal between Notre Dame and Clemson never made it to his designated landing spot on the opposite end of AT&T Stadium.

After bypassing his landing platform inside the stadium with the closed retractable roof, Clark returned almost to his takeoff spot. He landed on the shoulder of a Notre Dame fan clad in a green shirt a couple of sections from where he took off.

Clark took off again and flew to the other end of the stadium before doing a U-turn and landing on the outstretched arm of another fan. After a few seconds there, handler Daniel Cone retrieved Clark and got his leash back on him.

The small platform on the field where Clark was supposed to land was disassembled without him having made the scheduled stop.

It was the biggest stadium in which Clark has flown. Two years ago, Challenger the eagle had an uneventful flight before the Cotton Bowl.

— Schuyler Dixon, Arlington, Texas

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3:50 p.m.

Clemson defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence, suspended by the NCAA for failing a test for performance-enhancing drugs, was on the field Saturday wearing an orange sweat shirt with the familiar tigers paw logo as his teammates warmed up for the Cotton Bowl against Notre Dame.

Lawrence tested positive for a banned substance, along with two teammates who are both reserves for the Tigers.

The school has said it plans to appeal the ruling in the hopes of getting the 340-pound Lawrence back if Clemson advances to the national championship game. The highly touted junior’s college career could be over as he would be eligible to declare for the 2019 NFL draft.

— Ralph Russo, Arlington, Texas

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3:25 p.m.

Outside, it’s dreary and overcast, with real-feel temperatures of near freezing.

Inside, under the bright lights of AT&T Stadium and with the retractable roof closed, conditions are perfect for the Cotton Bowl, the College Football Playoff semifinal between No. 2 Clemson and No. 3 Notre Dame.

It is an unseasonably cool day in North Texas, with a forecast high Saturday of 40, about 16 degrees below average.

The Cotton Bowl moved from its namesake outdoor stadium on the grounds of the State Fair of Texas to the then-new $1.3 billion home of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys nine years ago.

That move guaranteed no worries about game day weather and pretty much ensured the Cotton Bowl becoming part of the College Football Playoff rotation.

There is still a bowl played at Cotton Bowl Stadium, and on Wednesday a game between No. 23 Boise State and Boston College became what is believed to be the first bowl game called off because of weather. The SERVPRO First Responder Bowl was canceled because of the threat of severe weather after a delay of about 90 minutes. The game was stopped with BC leading 7-0 with 5:08 left in the first quarter.

—Stephen Hawkins, Arlington, Texas

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3:15 a.m.

Oklahoma and Notre Dame are standing in the way of Alabama-Clemson Part IV.

The College Football Playoff semifinals are Saturday, with the top-ranked Crimson Tide facing No. 4 Oklahoma at the Orange Bowl in South Florida and No. 2 Clemson playing No. 3 Notre Dame at the Cotton Bowl in North Texas.

The Tigers (13-0) and Fighting Irish (12-0) meet in the first game of the semifinal doubleheader. The Irish are making their first CFP appearance.

The nightcap will feature Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray of Oklahoma (12-1) against Heisman runner-up Tua Tagovailoa of Alabama (13-0) in a matchup of star quarterbacks.

The winners advance to the national championship game on Jan. 7 in Santa Clara, California. Alabama and Clemson have faced off in the last three playoffs, including splitting two title games.

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