SAN JOSE, Calif. — At Clemson, the winning catch by Hunter Renfrow against Alabama in the 2017 CFP National Championship game is known as Crush.
In Amite, the winning play by native son Devonta Smith in the 2018 CFP title game is simply called The Catch.
Two amazing plays made by two very different men. Two men whose paths will cross Monday night in Santa Clara, California, in this year’s CFP National Championship Game between the Crimson Tide and the Tigers.
It is remarkable that they are both still treading across such an important stage after giving the still fledgling CFP its two most signature moments. It’s almost as though Billy Cannon and Warren Morris were squaring off on opposite sides, both seeking even more glory.
Renfrow’s catch was a 2-yarder in the right flat from now Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson with :01 left in the 2017 championship game in Tampa, Florida. For him, the Warren Morris comparison is quite apt. Like Morris, Renfrow has spent much of the past two years being buttonholed by an endless parade of well-wishers from across his home state of South Carolina, eager to tell him where they were when his catch made Clemson national champion for the first time since 1981.
“Clemson hadn’t won a national championship in so long,” said Renfrow, a fifth-year senior, at Saturday’s CFP media day. “So going home and seeing so many people and being able to enjoy that moment with them has been pretty fun.
“It definitely changed my life. Hopefully I changed for the good.”
It was so good, such an incredible instant after losing to Alabama in the previous year’s final in Glendale, Arizona (site of last week’s LSU Fiesta Bowl win over UCF) that Renfrow feared it would turn out to be a mirage.
“I remember looking at the ground and looking for a flag,” he said. “I didn’t know if there would be holding. Then I remember as soon as we scored, everyone was excited on the sideline. I’ve seen Stanford when they ran the kickoff back and the band was on the field (1982 against California) and so I didn’t want one of those to happen.”
Smith’s play came in overtime against Georgia in Atlanta, a 41-yard reception from Tua Tagovailoa that capped the Tide’s memorable Tua-led comeback from a 13-0 second-half deficit for a 26-23 overtime victory.
If that catch changed Smith’s life the way Renfrow’s did his, he isn’t telling. Smith was a no-show at Alabama’s portion of media day. Even if he had been there, those who know Smith and cover Alabama contend the man known as Tay in Amite and Smitty in Tuscaloosa would have had little if anything to say about it.
“He’s low-key, quiet,” said Zephaniah Powell, Smith’s coach at Amite High School. “He’s about business.”
Apparently to Smith, who was once taught in school by Donna Edwards, wife of Governor John Bel Edwards, replaying the past is bad for the business at hand.
“That’s true to form,” Powell said. “That situation happened last year. Making the catch to win the game was last year. They celebrated it, and it’s over with. That team isn’t walking (into the CFP final) Monday night. They’re going in with a brand new team and a new goal. His mindset is on that and on doing his job.”
Renfrow has been Mr. Old Reliable for Clemson again this season, ranking third on the team with 47 catches for 534 yards and a touchdown. Smith ranks fifth among Alabama receivers with 36 catches for 628 yards and six touchdowns. He's often overshadowed by fellow receivers Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs, but his knack for big plays has gone on unabated. Six of Smith’s catches are for 30 or more yards, five for touchdowns and the other a 50-yard strike against Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl.
“It’s something that he’s used to doing from the big games we played in high school,” Powell said. “Whether it was a big regular-season game or the playoffs or the state championship, he was always able to rise to the occasion.”
Renfrow and Smith have never spoken, never compared notes on their exceedingly rare bond of what it is like to make the ultimate catch in college football’s ultimate game. Perhaps they will Monday night. Renfrow hopes that will be the case.
“It’s cool, back to back to be able to share something like that,” Renfrow said. “He’s a great player. But hopefully one of my teammates will get to have that moment.”
One championship-winning catch, Renfrow figures, is enough glory for any man. Smith likely would agree.