New Orleans, LA (SportsNetwork.com) - Ezekiel Elliott's career night helped Ohio State continue its dream season and earn a spot in the national title game.
Elliott ran for a career-high and Sugar Bowl-record 230 yards and scored two touchdowns in the Buckeyes' thrilling 42-35 semifinal win over top-ranked Alabama at the Superdome on Thursday night.
Ohio State, ranked fifth in the Associated Press poll, faced doubts about its worthiness after being picked fourth in the College Football Playoff rankings ahead of TCU and Baylor.
It silenced the critics on Thursday night.
The Buckeyes (13-1) will now face Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota and Oregon in the first College Football Playoff final on Jan. 12 after the Ducks beat Florida State in the Rose Bowl earlier Thursday.
"We're really thankful for the playoff system," Elliott said. "They gave us a chance to go out there and show that we are one of the better teams in the nation and deserve to be in the national championship."
It will be the first title game featuring two non-SEC teams since Texas beat USC in the 2006 Rose Bowl.
Ohio State's run to the title game came after Heisman hopeful Braxton Miller was lost to a shoulder injury in the preseason. It picked up steam after backup quarterback J.T. Barrett suffered a fractured ankle in the regular- season finale against Michigan.
In stepped third-stringer Cardale Jones, who led a 59-0 rout of Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game, then took down the vaunted Crimson Tide (12-2) in just his second career start. Jones threw for 243 yards with one touchdown and an interception, while also rushing for 43 yards in the win.
"This is one of the great team wins we have ever been a part of," Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said. "We didn't play a great game, but we played a team game."
Blake Sims went 22-of-36 for 237 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions and also had a rushing touchdown for Alabama, which had its eight-game winning streak halted.
Heisman Trophy finalist Amari Cooper, the Biletnikoff winner as college football's top wide receiver, finished with nine catches for 71 yards and two touchdowns.
Derrick Henry paced the Crimson Tide with 95 rushing yards and a score. T.J. Yeldon, who was a game-time decision with a hamstring injury, added a rushing touchdown.
"We're very disappointed at the outcome of the game," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "You have to congratulate Ohio State for playing a really good game. I take responsibility for it. You have to prepare for the game better."
Ohio State will be trying to win an eighth national championship. It began the second half with Jones going deep to Devin Smith for a 47-yard touchdown and a 27-21 lead, its first since early in the opening quarter. The Buckeyes continued to put pressure on the SEC champions as Steve Miller returned an interception of Sims 41 yards to capped a string of 28 straight points scored.
The Crimson Tide countered with an 84-yard drive that Sims closed with a 5- yard run, reaching over the goal line to trim the gap to six late in the third.
Both teams were playing field position early in the fourth when a Crimson Tide bounce on Cameron Johnson's punt gave Alabama the ball at the Buckeyes' 23. The Crimson Tide could not capitalize, though, with Sims immediately throwing an interception to Vonn Bell just outside the end zone on the following play.
Alabama managed to move into Ohio State territory again, but Sims was bottled up for a loss of three on 3rd-and-6 from the 40.
Elliott then put the Buckeyes in excellent position to advance with his 85- yard touchdown run up the left side.
Sims hooked up with an open DeAndrew White for 51 yards on Alabama's ensuing possession and Cooper hauled in a 6-yard score on 4th-and-2 to pull the Crimson Tide within a touchdown with 1:59 left.
Adam Griffith's onside kick attempt shot high in the air off a bounce, but Evan Spencer got his hands on the ball and held on with a few fingers to secure it.
The Crimson Tide got the ball back with 1:33 left and no timeouts. Sims led them to the Buckeyes 42, where he launched a Hail Mary in the closing seconds that was intercepted by Tyvis Powell to end the game.
"We obviously didn't do the things that we needed to do as well as we needed to do them to win this game," Saban said.
The Buckeyes bounced back from Jones' lone interception -- which led to a 21-6 lead for Alabama -- with their first touchdown drive as Elliott finished off a 71-yard march with a 3-yard run up the middle.
Ohio State got the ball back with 1:32 left in the first half and used some trickery to close the frame with another touchdown. Spencer took an end-around and tossed a pass to Michael Thomas, who stretched to make the catch in the end zone prior to just tapping his one foot in bounds for the score.
Earlier, Jones picked up a first down on 3rd-and-6 with a 12-yard gain on Ohio State's first possession. Elliott then rushed the right end three plays later, put a stiff arm on one Crimson Tide defender, leaped over another and scampered down the sideline 54 yards to the Alabama 5. Alabama did not break, however, forcing the Buckeyes into a 22-yard field goal from Sean Nuernberger to start the scoring.
The Crimson Tide could not generate anything on their next touch, but their customary defense helped shift momentum.
Eddie Jackson stripped Elliott on a run of 17 yards and Landon Collins came up with the loose ball. It did not take long for Alabama to capitalize, as Henry bolted down the left sideline for a 25-yard touchdown two plays later for a 7-3 lead.
On OSU's next set of downs, Jones floated a pass to Smith, who settled under the deep ball and back-peddled out at the Crimson Tide 1 for a gain of 40. Ohio State had to settle for a 21-yard field goal from Nuernberger, mainly because Jones muffed the snap on 1st-and-goal.
Sims capped an eight-play, 79-yard drive with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Cooper on a rollout to make it 14-6 after one quarter. The Crimson Tide added another touchdown when they turned Cyrus Jones' interception into a 2-yard touchdown from Yeldon to make it 21-6 with 8:07 remaining in the first half.
The Buckeyes, who claimed their first win against Alabama in four all-time meetings, return to the national championship for the first time since a 38-24 loss to LSU in 2008 BCS title game ... Ohio State improved to 21-23 in bowl games, while Alabama fell to 35-24-3 ... Elliott's fumble in the opening quarter was OSU's first turnover in 39 possessions, dating back to Nov. 22 vs. Indiana ... Elliott was named Offensive Player of the Game and Ohio State linebacker Darron Lee was named Defensive Player of the Game.