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Alabama, Ohio State leap into national championship game

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — A truly untraditional Rose Bowl setting, a very common result for Alabama in the College Football Playoff.

DeVonta Smith caught three of fellow Heisman Trophy finalist Mac Jones’ four touchdown passes and Najee Harris ran for 125 yards with a high-hurdling highlight in Alabama’s 31-14 victory over No. 4 Notre Dame in a CFP semifinal Rose Bowl played inside about 1,400 miles from Pasadena, California.

CFP officials moved the Rose Bowl because of COVID-19 restrictions in California that would have kept family — or any fans — from attending the game at its normal home.

“I don’t think there’s anything quite like the Rose Bowl, the tradition, the setting, the mountains. It’s just a phenomenal experience,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “Wish our players had gotten that opportunity.”

Saban and the Tide (12-0) will have to settle for yet another opportunity to play for the national championship. It’ll be their fifth appearance in six seasons.

Alabama will take on No. 3 Ohio State, which routed No. 2 Clemson 49-28 on Friday in the Sugar Bowl, on Jan. 11 at Hard Rock Stadium in South Florida. Ohio State beat Alabama in the semifinals on the way to the 2014 national championship.

Justin Fields went 22-for-28 and threw for 385 yards and six touchdown passes for Ohio State (7-0) in Friday’s semifinal game. Clemson (10-2) quarterback Trevor Lawrence was 33-for-48 for 400 yards, but he lost for only the second time in 36 career starts.

Alabama missed the CFP last year for the only time since the four-team playoff debuted at the end of the 2014 season. The Buckeyes were the initial CFP champions, after beating the top-seeded Tide 42-35 in a semifinal that year.

“Now we’ve got an opportunity to win the whole thing, and then you’ve got an opportunity to write one of the best stories in college football history,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said.

Notre Dame (10-2), in football’s final four for only the second time, has lost seven consecutive New Year’s Six games since 2000.

The Fighting Irish have gone 32 seasons since winning their last national title with a 12-0 record under Lou Holtz in 1988. They were down only 21-7 when they got the ball for the first time in the second half, but any chance to get some momentum evaporated when quarterback Ian Book threw an interception when under pressure and Alabama turned that into Smith’s third TD catch.

“Today was about making the plays. They made them on the perimeter. Their skill players showed up today as they have all year,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “We battled. I thought we did some of the things that we wanted to today but we simply didn’t make enough plays.”

Alabama scored TDs on its first three possessions, including a 97-yard drive on which Harris leaped over 6-foot cornerback Nick McCloud just after crossing the line of scrimmage, landed on both feet and then sprinted for a 53-yard gain before getting run out of bounds.

“I don’t know why I’m surprised every time he does it. I’ve seen it for three years, but still, ‘Geez!,” tight end Miller Forristall said.

“I actually try to teach him not to do it, and it didn’t work,” Saban said, laughing. “Anyway, for a big guy, it’s pretty amazing that he can do that. He’s kind of got a great feel when a guy’s going to try to cut him. … When he sees that head go down, he’ll go over the top of them in a heartbeat.”

Jones, who completed 25 of 30 passes for 297 yards, threw a 12-yard TD to tight end Jahleel Billingsley on the next play.

That came between drives when Smith, with 16 TD catches his last seven games, turned short passes into scores of 26 and 34 yards. Smith finished with seven catches for 130 yards, later adding a nifty toe-tapping 7-yarder in the front corner of the end zone right on the pylon.