ARLINGTON, United States: The Ohio State Buckeyes grabbed a slice of American college football history on Monday (Tuesday in Manila) with a 42-20 triumph over Oregon in the first College Football Playoff Championship.
Ezekiel Elliott ran for 246 yards and four touchdowns for Ohio State, who become the first university to claim a national football title via a knockout playoff competition.
The national collegiate title has long been a coveted commodity in a sport that sparks pride and passions across the United States often greater than those produced by professional teams.
But the one thing lacking from the spectacle has been the kind of playoffs so beloved of US sports enthusiasts–head-to-head competitions that let fans point to the last team standing as true and deserving champions.
Instead, for decades, rankings or polls determined the national collegiate football champion.
For the last 16 years, the Bowl Championship Series system pitted two top teams in a title game based on a combination of human polls and computer rankings.
This season, a selection committee of 13 chose and seeded four teams to play in semi-final games.
The University of Oregon steamrolled defending national champions Florida State 59-20 in the Rose Bowl, which served as one playoff semi-final.
Ohio State rallied to beat top-ranked Alabama 42-35 in the Sugar Bowl — which was the other semi-final game.
And on Monday, Ohio State powered past the Ducks in front of 85,689 fans at AT&T Stadium, the billion-dollar home of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys.
Oregon boasted quarterback Marcus Mariota, winner of the coveted Heisman Trophy as the country’s top collegiate player.
But it was the Buckeyes’ second-year running back Elliott who starred, putting the game away with three touchdown runs in the second half.
Ohio State defender Eli Apple punctuated the victory by intercepting a Mariota pass on the final play of the game.
The victory capped an improbable championship run for Ohio State, who lost star quarterback Braxton Miller before the season. Backup J.T. Barrett kept the ship on course, but broke his ankle in November, leaving third-string quarterback Cardale Jones to lead the Buckeyes to the Big Ten conference title and their Sugar Bowl victory.
Mariota threw two touchdown passes, including a seven-yard strike to Keanon Lowe on their opening drive.
Mariota connected with Byron Marshall on a 70-yard catch and run for a touchdown in the third that cut Ohio State’s lead to 21-17 in the third.
Oregon’s defense forced four turnovers, including two in the third quarter as the Ducks pulled within 21-20, but Ohio State responded with two touchdown drives to put the game out of reach.
Even before Monday’s game the new playoff format had been widely hailed as a success.
The two semi-final games produced high-scoring, entertaining contests that drew more than 28 million television viewers apiece, sparking talk of expanding the playoffs from four to eight teams. AFP