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Alabama stifles Clemson to reach title game

Alabama 24, Clemson 6

The Latest on the College Football Playoff semifinals (all times EST):

12:20 a.m.

It's an all-SEC showdown for the national championship.

Jalen Hurts threw two touchdown passes to help Alabama defeat Clemson 24-6 in the Sugar Bowl semifinal. Alabama will face Southeastern Conference rival Georgia for the national championship on Jan. 8 in Atlanta. The Crimson Tide will be seeking their fifth national title in nine years.

Clemson trailed Alabama 10-6 in the third quarter and had driven to the Crimson Tide 35-yard line before Alabama defensive lineman Da'Ron Payne intercepted a pass by Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant and returned it 21 yards. On the ensuing drive, Payne entered the game on offense and caught a 1-yard touchdown pass from Hurts to put the Crimson Tide ahead 17-6 in the third quarter. On Clemson's next offensive play, Alabama's Mack Wilson intercepted a pass by Bryant and returned it 18 yards for a touchdown to give the Crimson Tide a 24-6 lead.

It was the third straight year the two teams met in the College Football Playoff. Alabama won the championship game against Clemson in 2015, and the Tigers bounced back to beat the Crimson Tide in the 2016 title game.

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11:20 p.m.

Alabama has taken command of the Sugar Bowl, getting a pair of touchdowns from defensive players just 13 seconds apart to take a 24-6 lead over defending national champion Clemson.

The stunning turn of events actually began with 308-pound defensive tackle Da'Ron Payne picking off a wobbly pass after Tiger quarterback Kelly Bryant was hit as he threw.

Payne rumbled 21 yards on the return, which included an impressive open-field move to make running back Travis Etienne miss, and drew a 15-yard personal foul penalty as Tremayne Anchrum yanked him down with a horse collar.

After Alabama drove to first-and-goal at the Clemson 1, Payne re-entered the game -- presumably to add another big body for blocking purposes. But Jalen Hurts faked the handoff and Payne slipped open in the flat, hauling in the touchdown pass that gave the Tide a 17-6 lead.

On Clemson's next offensive play, Bryant's pass deflected off the hands of Deon Cain and was intercepted by linebacker Mack Wilson, who returned it 18 yards for a score.

Just like that, Alabama seems on course to face Southeastern Conference rival Georgia for the national title next Monday night in Atlanta.

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10:50 p.m.

Clemson has trimmed Alabama's lead to 10-6 early in the third quarter of the Sugar Bowl, thanks in part to a blunder by the Crimson Tide offense.

Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts fumbled when he tried to pull the ball back after he'd started to hand off to Damien Harris. Clemson linebacker Kendall Joseph recovered on the Alabama 20.

However, Alabama's defense forced Clemson backward five yards over the next three plays, and Clemson sent out kicker Alex Spence for a 42-yard field goal.

The winner advances to the title game in Atlanta on Jan. 8 against Georgia, which defeated Oklahoma in the other semifinal at the Rose Bowl.

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10:30 p.m.

Alabama largely dominated the first half of the Sugar Bowl, but Clemson has managed to keep the College Football Playoff semifinal a one-score game.

The Crimson Tide took a 10-0 lead in the first quarter, but was held scoreless in the second after a field goal try hit one of the uprights.

Clemson, meanwhile, cut into Alabama's deficit with Alex Spence's 44-yard field goal in the second quarter.

Alabama had the ball for 18:34 during the half and outgained Clemson 182 yards to 73. The game's lone touchdown came on Jalen Hurts' 12-yard pass to Calvin Ridley.

The winner advances to the title game in Atlanta on Jan. 8 against Georgia, which defeated Oklahoma in the other semifinal at the Rose Bowl.

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9:55 p.m.

Clemson finally produced some offense at the Sugar Bowl.

After being held to minus-7 yards in the first quarter of the College Football Playoff semifinal Monday night in New Orleans, the Tigers picked up their initial first down on Kelly Bryant's 20-yard scramble on third-and-12.

That seemed to spark Clemson, which drove to the Alabama 27 before the drive stalled out.

Alex Spence connected on a 44-yard field goal that cut the Crimson Tide's lead to 10-3 with 10 minutes left in the first half.

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9:45 p.m.

The first quarter of the Sugar Bowl has been all Alabama.

The Crimson Tide scored on a 12-yard touchdown pass from Jalen Hurts to Calvin Ridley after Hurts escaped trouble in the backfield and initially looked as if he might try to run it.

When the first quarter ended, Alabama led 10-0 over Clemson in their College Football Playoff semifinal and also had 102 to minus-7 advantage in total yards.

If the game doesn't turn around, it'll be an all-Southeastern Conference championship, with Georgia having vanquished Oklahoma in double overtime in their semifinal in the Rose Bowl.

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9:29 p.m.

Alabama has scored the first points of the College Football Playoff semifinal in the Sugar Bowl against Clemson.

The first three possessions ended with punts.

Crimson Tide quarterback Jalen Hurts had a scramble and short completion to Henry Ruggs to move Alabama deep into Clemson territory. But the Tigers defense held from there, forcing a 24-yard field goal Andy Pappanastos.

The winner will face Georgia in the national championship game in Atlanta on Jan. 8.

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