Ohio State leads Alabama 34-28 after 3 quarters
NEW ORLEANS (AP) Quarterback Cardale Jones accounted for 305 yards from scrimmage, defensive end Steve Miller returned an interception 41 yards for a score, and Ohio State led Alabama 34-28 after the third quarter of the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Sugar Bowl on Thursday night.
The winner will advance to the championship game in Arlington, Texas, on Jan. 12 against Oregon. The Ducks pummeled Florida State 59-20 on Thursday at the Rose Bowl.
Throwing deep and scrambling effectively, Jones had 243 yards passing, including a 47-yard scoring strike to Devin Smith, along with 62 yards rushing.
Jones was poised in the face of Alabama coach Nick Saban's defense, helping the Buckeyes to surge into the lead after a pair of costly first-half turnovers had put Ohio State in a 21-6 hole.
Miller's interception return of Blake Sims' pass to the left flat capped 28 straight points to give Ohio State a 34-21 lead.
The Crimson Tide then responded with Sims' 5-yard scoring run, set up by Derrick Henry's 52-yard gain on a reception out of the backfield.
Henry gave Alabama its first lead on 25-yard run shortly after Ezekiel Elliott's fumble in the first quarter. Cyrus Jones' interception and 32-yard return of Cardale Jones' pass led to T.J. Yeldon's 2-yard score. In between, Sims hit Amari Cooper for a 15-yard touchdown strike for Alabama (12-1).
In addition to hurting its cause with turnovers, Ohio State settled for field goals the first two times it drove inside the 10.
But the Buckeyes (12-1) kept coming and cut 'Bama's lead to a single point with 12 seconds left in the half on a trick play featuring receiver Evan Spencer's 13-yard pass to Michael Thomas, who made a difficult leaping touchdown catch as he twisted in the air and narrowly touched one foot in bounds.
Elliott, who rushed for 139 yards through three quarters, scored on a 3-yard run for Ohio State, which had outgained Alabama 464 yards to 269 heading into the fourth quarter .
Ohio State struck first after Elliott stiff-armed cornerback Eddie Jackson to get the corner on the right sideline and then hurdled Landon Collins to break loose for a 54-yard gain to the 5.
The Crimson Tide did not allow another yard on the next three plays, forcing the Buckeyes to settle for Sean Nuernberger's short field goal.
Alabama, the top seed and Southeastern Conference champion, punted after three plays on its first two series. But Jackson and Collins redeemed themselves for their failure to make a tackle on Elliot's long run on Ohio State's next possession. Jackson punched the ball out of Elliott's grasp during a run to the right side, and Collins made the scoop and short return to the Ohio State 33. Henry scored two plays later.
The Buckeyes were in position to regain the lead after Devin Smith's 40-yard catch to the Alabama 1. But Jones bobbled a shotgun snap on the next play and was brought down by Collins for an 8-yard loss. Again, Ohio State was unable to get in the end zone, and Nuernberger's second field goal made it 7-6.
Alabama is trying to win its fourth national title under Saban since the 2009 season.
The Buckeyes, the Big Ten champions, have won 11 straight and are seeking their first official bowl victory against a team from the Southeastern Conference. Ohio State came in 0-10 against the league in the postseason, having vacated a 2011 triumph over Arkansas because of NCAA violations.