By Homero De la Fuente, CNN
(CNN) — The No. 1 Michigan Wolverines used a punishing rushing attack to down the No. 2 Washington Huskies 34-13 in Monday night’s College Football Playoff National Championship game at NRG Stadium in Houston.
It is the first national title since 1997 for Michigan and 10th overall NCAA football crown for the winningest program in college football history.
Michigan (15-0), which became the first college football program to reach 1,000 all-time wins earlier this season, rushed for 303 yards and four touchdowns as a team in handing Washington its first loss of the season.
The NCAA credits Michigan with 10 football championships, while Michigan claims 12. The 1932 and 1947 titles that Michigan counts as winning are not recognized by the NCAA.
“It couldn’t have gone better. It went exactly how we wanted it to go, to win every game,” Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh told reporters after the game.
In the battle of the nation’s last two undefeated teams, Michigan got the scoring started early, when Wolverines running back Donovan Edwards broke out for a 41-yard rushing touchdown on the game’s first drive. Edwards doubled the Wolverines’ score on the team’s next offensive drive after busting a 46-yard touchdown run to put Michigan ahead 14-3 in the first quarter.
Edwards’ two touchdowns are the second- and third-longest touchdown runs in CFP championship game history, trailing only Alabama’s Derrick Henry’s 50-yard score in 2016.
Washington struggled to get much going on offense for much of the first half until Huskies quarterback and Heisman Trophy runner-up Michael Penix Jr. connected with Jalen McMillan for a 3-yard touchdown pass on fourth and goal with under a minute left in the second quarter to cut the deficit to 17-10.
The defenses from both teams tightened in the second half as each side exchanged field goals early in the third quarter before forcing punts on six consecutive drives.
Michigan added an insurance score on a Blake Corum 12-yard run halfway through the fourth quarter to take a 27-13 lead.
With Washington needing a score to keep themselves in the game, the Michigan defense came up with arguably the play of the game as Mike Sainristil intercepted a Penix Jr. pass and returned it for 81 yards to set up a second Corum touchdown.
Corum finished the game with 134 rushing yards on 21 carries with the two touchdowns, while Edwards added 104 rushing yards on six carries and two touchdowns to power the Wolverines ground game.
Michigan’s national championship caps a season filled with controversy off the field for the Wolverines.
‘We knew we were innocent’
Head football coach Harbaugh was suspended for the first three games, a self-imposed sanction by Michigan’s athletics department because of NCAA recruiting violations. The NCAA, which has an open investigation into the matter, could potentially choose to add further penalties in that case.
The NCAA opened a second investigation into the Wolverines in October for alleged sign-stealing, leading to the suspension and subsequent resignation of Michigan football analyst Connor Stalions and the firing of linebackers coach Chris Partidge.
Harbaugh has denied knowledge of any scheme to steal other teams’ signs, but accepted a three-game suspension – upping his total games away from the Michigan sideline to six.
Both NCAA investigations into Michigan remain ongoing.
“The off the field issues, we’re innocent and we stood strong and tall because we knew we were innocent,” Harbaugh told reporters after the game.
“I would just like to point that out, these guys are innocent. [To] overcome that, it wasn’t that hard because we knew we were innocent.”
Attention then turned to Harbaugh’s future and the possibility of him one day guiding an NFL team to the Super Bowl.
“I just want to enjoy this. I hope you give me that,” he said when asked about his future ambitions. “Can a guy have that? Does it always have to be what’s next, what’s the future?
“Like I said the other day, yeah, I hope to have a future. I hope there’s a tomorrow, a day after tomorrow, a next week, a next month, a next year.”
‘Not going to point fingers’
Meanwhile, Washington’s loss marks the program’s final game as a member of the Pac-12 Conference as the Huskies are set to join the Big Ten next season.
Penix, a Heisman Trophy finalist, who led the nation in passing, completed 27-of-51 pass attempts in the title game, but with two interceptions.
Penix enjoyed a remarkable final collegiate season, with the sixth-year quarterback – he suffered three season-ending injuries during his first four years in college football with Indiana and has two surgically repaired knees – exploding as a potential first round pick in the upcoming NFL draft.
He became the first college quarterback to throw for 4,500 yards in back-to-back seasons since Patrick Mahomes did so at Texas Tech in 2015 and 2016, per ESPN.
“It sucks. We played a good team. They did some good things,” Penix told reporters after the defeat.
“I feel like on the offensive side of the ball, we just missed a lot of opportunities, opportunities where we needed to execute the most to help our team, put our team in a better position to come out with this win.
“We have been through a lot together and we’re not going to point fingers or nothing like that. It’s a lot of love in the locker room.”
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CNN’s Ben Morse contributed to this report.