NEW ORLEANS — Bring on the Payne.
Alabama defensive lineman Da’Ron Payne thrived during his team’s 24-6 victory over Clemson in the Sugar Bowl on Monday. All eyes were on him in Mercedes-Benz Superdome, and they were wide in disbelief.
During the third quarter, Payne intercepted a pass and carried it 21 yards before someone brought him to the ground.
“I clowned on him when he didn’t score,” Alabama wide receiver Cam Sims said. “So, he made up for it.”
That he did.
The Crimson Tide’s offense then took care of business all on its own – for the most part. With a yard to go, Alabama brought in its jumbo package. Payne came back out.
Normally, the big man is just there to block. Definitely not the case this time.
Payne broke away from the line to catch a pass. He grabbed it with a little hop that planted him in the right corner of the end zone. As soon as he landed and officially scored, both arms went up with what looked like a little leap of joy. He tumbled to the ground afterward but rolled right back up to his feet — quite elegantly, too. Teammates piled on.
This clever play was something Alabama had been working on recently. But Payne wasn’t sure if head coach Nick Saban would pull the trigger.
“I didn’t think he was going to do it this early,” Payne said. “But I’m so happy he did. I’m blessed. I’m just happy for the opportunity.”
Payne’s touchdown extended Alabama’s lead over Clemson to 17-6 with a little less than six minutes left in the third quarter.
A lot of people would call this a Fat Guy Touchdown. Payne is 6-foot-2 and weighs 308 pounds.
“He’s played well for us all year long,” Saban said. “And, you know, he’s a great athlete for a big guy, so he got a chance to make some plays today.”
Payne is a junior originally from Birmingham. In his collegiate career — one that has seen him play in 43 games now — he has forced a fumble but Monday marked his first interception. And first reception.
There was, however, a catch-turned-touchdown in high school. Possible transition to wide receiver?
“I don’t know about that,” Sims said. “But he’s got them hands.”
Apparently Payne was catching passes in practice all week. Sims said he helped Payne out and just knew Payne would thrive when his moment came.
Payne’s success is the epitome of the phrase “play like you practice.”
“Me and my teammates, we did a lot of hard work,” Payne said. “Coming here, we just wanted to prove to all the doubters and the naysayers that we’re a really dominant team and we haven’t really lost anything.”
Payne finished the game with two tackles, a pass breakup and the interception.
But what will never be forgotten: his offensive touchdown.
The next stop for Payne and the Crimson Tide is Atlanta for the College Football Playoff National Championship Game.
“I’m ready to get after it,” Payne said.