ATLANTA — Alabama is heading back to the national championship game.
Bo Scarbrough and another stifling performance by Nick Saban’s defense made sure of that.
The top-ranked Crimson Tide scored 10 points off turnovers, including Ryan Anderson’s interception return for a touchdown late in the first half, and Scarbrough’s 68-yard TD run in the fourth quarter clinched a 24-7 victory over Washington in the Peach Bowl semifinal Saturday.
Scarbrough finished with 180 yards and two scores, garnering MVP honors.
Alabama (14-0) moves on to Tampa for a shot at its second straight title and fifth in the last eight years under Saban. The Tide will face either Ohio State or Clemson — who were meeting later Saturday at the Fiesta Bowl — in the Jan. 9 championship game.
No. 4 Washington (12-2) reached the College Football Playoff with a remarkable turnaround season after struggling much of the last two decades — including an 0-12 debacle in 2008.
But Jake Browning and the Huskies’ balanced offense were no match for Alabama’s top-ranked defense, even after an impressive drive gave them an early 7-0 edge.
The Tide began to exert its dominance late in the first quarter when John Ross caught a screen pass, only to have the ball stripped away by Anthony Averett. Jonathan Allen recovered, giving Alabama possession at the Washington 40 and setting up Adam Griffith’s 41-yard field goal for a 10-7 lead.
Anderson made an even bigger defensive play with just over a minute to go in the half. With blitzing linebacker Reuben Foster bearing down on him, Browning desperately heaved a pass into the flats for Lavon Coleman. Anderson stepped in to pick it off, knocked Coleman over in the process and was off to the end zone on a 26-yard return that made it 17-7 at the half.
For Alabama, it was the 11th defensive touchdown of the season.
Nothing could have been more fitting.
Any hopes of a Washington comeback were snuffed out by Scarbrough, a starter at most schools but a backup for the deep, talented Tide. On a simple running play to the left, he appeared to be stopped by two players just short of the line of scrimmage.
But Scarbrough somehow managed to stay on his feet and — boom! — he was gone. Streaking down the field in front of the Alabama bench, he avoided another defender with a subtle deke, cut back toward the middle of the field at the Washington 30 and outran everyone to the end zone.
Scarbrough also scored Alabama’s first touchdown with a bruising, 18-yard run.