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Bowl Playoffs: Ohio State, Oregon to meet for championship

Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott, right, pulls away from Alabama Crimson Tide defensive back Nick Perry, left, and defensive back Cyrus Jones, middle, on an 85-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter of the 2015 Sugar Bowl Thursday at Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, La. USA TODAY Sports.1 / 2
Florida State Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston (5) is tackled by Oregon’s Tyson Coleman Thursday during the 2015 Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. USA TODAY Sports.2 / 2

NEW ORLEANS -- Sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott battered the Alabama defense for 230 rushing yards, including an 85-yard touchdown burst with 3:24 left, powering fourth-ranked Ohio State to a 42-35 upset victory over the top-ranked Crimson Tide in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

The Buckeyes earned a berth in the national championship game against Oregon on Jan. 12 in Arlington, Texas.

Ohio State was clinging to a 34-28 lead when it took over at its 5-yard line with 5:24 remaining. After the Buckeyes picked up one first down, Elliott, a high school sprinter timed at 4.3 seconds in the 40-yard dash, took a handoff off left tackle, broke out of a diving tackle by linebacker Xzavier Dickson and ran unmolested for the score.

The Buckeyes converted the two-point conversion on a pass from quarterback Cardale Jones to Michael Thomas, making it 42-28.

Alabama wasn't dead, traveling 75 yards in six plays to cut the deficit to 42-35 on a 6-yard pass from quarterback Blake Sims to wide receiver Amari Cooper with 1:59 left.

Alabama had one more chance, getting the ball back at its 18 with 1:33 left and no timeouts. After moving the ball to the Ohio State 42, Sims threw a Hail Mary pass into the end zone, but it was intercepted by safety Tyvis Powell as time expired.

Jones finished 18 of 35 for 243 yards with one touchdown pass and one interception. Sims completed 22 of 36 passes for 237 yards and two touchdowns with three interceptions.

Trailing 34-28, Alabama had a superb chance to regain the lead, taking over on the Ohio State 23 after a 21-yard punt out of the end zone by Cameron Johnston. But instead of having his team pound the ball with the run, Alabama coach Nick Saban had Sims roll to his right and throw toward the end zone, where his pass for tight end O.J. Howard was intercepted at the goal line by safety Vonn Bell with 9:44 left.

Ohio State continued its offensive efficiency on the first series of the second half, driving 75 yards in six plays to take a 27-21 lead. It was easy pickings for Jones, who simply lofted a pass down the right sideline for wide receiver Devin Smith, and when cornerback Eddie Jackson slipped to the turf at the 10, Smith was all alone to finish off a 47-yard TD reception.

The Buckeyes scored their fourth consecutive touchdown courtesy of defensive trickery. Facing a third-and-7, Sims thought Cooper was open, but right defensive end Steve Miller dropped into coverage for an interception and returned it 41 yards for a touchdown and a 34-21 Ohio State lead.

Alabama responded with an 84-yard touchdown drive, with 52 coming on a dump-off pass from Sims to running back Derrick Henry to the Ohio State 17. The Tide closed the deficit to 34-28 three plays later on Sims' 5-yard run.

Ohio State frittered away two golden scoring opportunities in the first quarter, moving the ball twice for first downs inside the Alabama 5-yard line but each time having to settle for chip-shot field goals.

The first chance came after Elliott raced 54 yards to the Alabama 5 after leaping over safety Landon Collins on a sweep around right end. But Jones was stopped for no gain on first down and then threw two incompletions, bringing in Sean Nuernberger for a 22-yard field goal.

Alabama got a big break on Ohio State's next series when Elliott fumbled after a 17-yard gain on a hit by linebacker Trey DePriest, and safety Landon Collinsrecovered at the Ohio State 33. Two plays later, Henry found a huge hole off left tackle and raced 25 yards untouched to put the Crimson Tide up 7-3.

The Buckeyes then went 71 yards on 11 plays to the Alabama 1, but again came away with just a 21-yard Nuernberger field goal. This time, Jones showed some nerves by fumbling the shotgun snap on first down, resulting in an 8-yard loss, setting in motion another missed opportunity.

Alabama engineered its best drive of the half -- 79 yards on eight plays -- to expand its lead to 14-6 on Sims' 15-yard pass to Cooper.

It got worse for the Buckeyes when Jones' woeful pass over the middle was picked off by cornerback Cyrus Jones, who returned it 32 yards to the Ohio State 15.Alabama converted a fourth-and-inches from the Buckeyes' 6, and running back T.J. Yeldon scored from 2 yards out on the next play, giving Alabama a 21-6 lead with 8:07 left in the half.

Then, just as suddenly, Jones caught fire, leading Ohio State on touchdown drives of 71 and 77 yards. He completed a pair of 26-yard passes to receiver Jalin Marshall on the first drive, capped by Elliott's 3-yard touchdown run.

Jones then took over at his 23 with 1:32 left in the half and displayed more heroics. He scrambled up the middle for a 27-yard gain to the Alabama 13. On the next play, Jones took the shotgun snap, flipped to wide receiver Evan Spencer on what looked like a reverse. But Spencer wheeled and threw back to his left for Thomas, who got his left foot down for the 13-yard completion, cutting the Alabama lead to 21-20 at halftime.

Florida State turnovers fuel Oregon's relentless attack

PASADENA, Calif. — Second-ranked Oregon scored six second-half touchdowns — five off turnovers by third-ranked Florida State — to change the first college football playoff semifinal from a close game to a rout.

The Ducks emerged with a 59-20 win in the 101st Rose Bowl game to earn a berth in the first College Football Playoff championship game. On Jan. 12 in Arlington, Texas, Oregon will play the winner of the Alabama-Ohio State semifinal, played later Thursday in the Sugar Bowl.

Florida State, which trailed 18-13 at the half, had the first possession in the second half and immediately put together a promising drive that took it from its own 20 to the Oregon 41. However, running back Dalvin Cook, after running 10 yards, was stripped of the ball by Oregon linebacker Derrick Malone.

Five plays later, Ducks running back Royce Freeman scored from 3 yards out to give his team a 25-13 lead.

That was just the beginning of the end for the Seminoles.

Another Cook fumble was converted by Oregon into a 30-yard touchdown pass from Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota to wide receiver Darren Carrington for a 39-20 lead.

Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston then fumbled, with the ball scooped up by Oregon linebacker Tony Washington and returned 58 yards for a touchdown and a 45-20 lead with 1:36 left in the third quarter.

Winston threw an interception on the Seminoles’ next possession, which Oregon turned into a 23-yard touchdown run by Mariota to make it 52-20.

Mariota completed 26 of 36 passes for 338 yards and two touchdowns. His counterpart, former Heisman winner Winston, completed 29 of 45 passes for 348 yards and one touchdown. Each signal-caller was intercepted once.

Oregon running back Thomas Tyner (13 carries, 124 yards closed the scoring with a 21-yard run that made it 59-20 with 10:19 remaining in the game. That score was made possible by another Florida State fumble, this one by receiver Jesus Wilson.

In all, Oregon scored 41 second-half points. The 59 points set a single-game Rose Bowl record.

Mariota guided Oregon on touchdown drives of 73 and 75 yards in the first half, but he overthrew a wide-open receiver Dwayne Stanford at the goal line with what would have been a third scoring pass.

Mariota, who was fortunate to have a sure interception dropped by Florida State safety Jalen Ramsey near the Seminoles’ end zone, was picked off late in the first half by defensive back Nate Andrews.

Winston guided his team on a 71-yard touchdown drive in the first half, and he was lucky that an errant pass was dropped by an Oregon defender in the end zone.

Florida State opened the scoring with Roberto Aguayo’s 28-yard field goal with 9:06 left in the first quarter.

Oregon responded with Mariota moving the Ducks down the field, completing four passes and deftly pitching the ball to wide receiver Charles Nelson for a 14-yard run to the Seminoles’ 1-yard line. Two plays later, Freeman scored on a 1-yard run. Quarterback Taylor Alie’s two-point conversion pass to linebacker Christian French gave Oregon an 8-3 lead with 6:55 left in the first quarter.

Oregon took an 11-3 lead on Aiden Schneider’s 28-yard field goal early in the second quarter. Florida State closed within 11-6 on Aguayo’s 26-yard field goal with a little more than five minutes left in the half.

Mariota took his team 75 yards on 10 plays, with Tyner’s 1-yard run giving the Ducks an 18-6 lead.

Florida State responded immediately, driving 71 yards to a 10-yard touchdown run by running back Karlos Williams with 36 seconds left in the half to close the gap.

NOTES: Oregon held a decided edge in the game even before it started as about two-thirds of the crowd were clad in green and gold. Not surprising because the distance between Eugene, Ore., and Pasadena is 859 miles and Tallahassee, Fla., is a more than 2,200 miles away. ... Despite concerns that the Rose Bowl weather would be unseasonably chilly, the temperature at kickoff was 57 degrees. ... Redshirt freshman WR Devon Allen, Oregon’s second leading receiver in catches and yards, limped off the field after returning the opening kickoff. He appeared to injure his right knee, and he did not return to the game.