ARLINGTON, Texas — Ohio State’s 13th win in a row was the one that mattered most as the Buckeyes toppled No. 2 Oregon to win the first-ever College Football Playoff National Championship under the lights in North Texas.
After falling behind in the opening minutes, No. 4 OSU piled up 21 straight first-half points before sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott led a second-half surge that culminated with a 42-20 victory. Elliott finished the game with a national championship game record 246 yards and four touchdowns Monday night at AT&T Stadium.
Elliott said after the game that the Buckeyes had reached their goal, and he could barely believe it.
“This is a surreal moment,” he said. “It’s why we all came here. After all we went through, this is crazy. It doesn’t feel real.”
Redshirt-sophomore quarterback Cardale Jones said the win was even sweeter because the Buckeyes fought through injuries to two Heisman trophy-candidate quarterbacks, an early-season loss to Virginia Tech and the death of teammate Kosta Karageorge to get there.
“Long story short, we weren’t supposed to be here,” he said. “We had every — all the odds were stacked against us through the whole season, and for us to be sitting right here as national champs, it only means a lot to me, but our community, Buckeye nation, and our hometowns.”
The Buckeyes (14-1, 8-0) picked up the eighth national title in program history, and improved to 9-0 all-time against the No. 2 Ducks (13-2, 8-1).
Elliott was named the game’s offensive player of the game, while redshirt-sophomore safety Tyvis Powell picked up the defensive equivalent.
The win gave OSU its first national title since 2002 and moved coach Urban Meyer to 3-0 all-time in national title games. Meyer is just the second coach to win national championships at more than one school, as he won two while coaching at Florida.
“The chase is complete,” Meyer said after the game. “These guys accepted their final mission and did it. It was our final mantra the past few weeks and I’m very grateful for the work these guys put in.”
Meyer — an Ashtabula, Ohio, native and former Cincinnati football player — said he’s honored to win his third championship, this time for his home state.
“I played college football here, and to bring now a national title to the great state of Ohio, it’s almost surreal,” he said.
Jones — who started all three of OSU’s postseason games after redshirt-freshman J.T. Barrett fractured his ankle — dedicated the win to the Buckeye seniors, who had not won a bowl game before this season.
“It’s even better than I thought. It’s an unreal feeling,” Jones said after the game. “The seniors never could win a bowl game in four years. This is for them.”
The game started with redshirt-junior quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota leading his team down the field to take an 7-0 lead after just 2:39. Jones took over at his own 25-yard line.
The teams traded punts on the next two drives, before Elliott weaved through the Oregon defense for a 33-yard touchdown, tying the game at seven with 4:36 to play in the first quarter.
OSU scored again on its next drive after an Oregon punt, taking a 14-7 lead on a touchdown pass from Jones to redshirt-junior tight end Nick Vannett.
After an Oregon punt and a Jones fumble, the Ducks drove down to the OSU three-yard line, but came up short on fourth down. OSU fumbled on the next drive, but a sack of Mariota by junior defensive lineman Adolphus Washington forced a three-and-out for Oregon.
OSU took a 21-10 halftime lead, but Oregon pulled within one in the second half. Elliott tacked on a touchdown late in the third quarter and another in the fourth to extend the margin, helping the Buckeyes stay ahead, despite turning the ball over four times.
Meyer said the win came in part because of the play of Elliott and the offense, but stressed the importance of the improved play of the OSU defense as well.
“And it’s also a testimony to the improvement our defense has made,” he said. “We won that game because of course Zeke Elliott and of course our offensive line, but our defense, to hold (Mariota) — I know he threw for a bunch of yards, 300-plus yards, but our defense, we tackled tonight and did a great job.”
A fumble on OSU’s second drive of the second half marked the team’s fourth turnover of the game and second in the third quarter.
A defensive stand inside the 10-yard line by the Buckeyes forced an Oregon field goal with 6:39 to play in the third quarter, making it 21-20.
After the field goal, Elliott ran for 44 of 75 yards on a 12-play drive, capped by a nine-yard scoring run to give the Buckeyes a 28-20 lead at the start of the fourth quarter. Elliott piled on another 20 yards on OSU’s next drive, and punched in his third touchdown of the game to make it 35-20 with 9:44 on the clock.
Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said Elliott is a “tremendous player,” and credited the OSU offensive line for some of his success against the Ducks.
“He is an exceptional player, as is their offensive line,” Helfrich said after the game. “Their offensive line did a really nice job.”
OSU stopped the Ducks on fourth down with less than four minutes to play, taking over in Oregon territory. Elliott capped a short Buckeye drive with another touchdown for the final points of the game.
Elliott finished the season with 1,878 rushing yards, good for second-most in program history.
In addition to Elliott’s third-straight game with 220 yards or more, Jones finished the night 16-of-23 on pass attempts for 242 yards and a touchdown with one interception. Jalin Marshall led the Buckeyes with five receptions while redshirt-junior wide receiver Corey Smith totaled 76 yards through the air.
Powell led OSU with nine total tackles while Washington and sophomore safety Vonn Bell each tallied sacks of Mariota.
Mariota finished the game with 333 passing yards and two touchdowns, while Byron Marshall tallied eight receptions for 169 yards and a score. OSU redshirt-freshman cornerback Eli Apple forced Oregon’s only turnover with an interception of Mariota on the game’s final play.
The 14 wins are tied for the most in OSU history, and the 15 games played by both teams marks the most by any program in a single season.
For highlights from Ohio State’s win in the national championship, watch the video below.