NEW ORLEANS – Alabama will have to wait another year for a chance to win another national title.

Behind a balanced dose of Cardale Jones and Ezekiel Elliott and an admirable effort on defense, Ohio State handed a Crimson Tide team gunning for its fourth national title appearance in six years a season-ending 42-35 loss Thursday night in the Sugar Bowl.

Alabama (12-2) rallied late after allowing the Buckeyes to score 28 unanswered points during one stretch in the second and third quarters to fall behind by as many as 13 points – its largest deficit of the season – but the attempt fell just short.

Twice in the second half, the Crimson Tide cut the lead to a one-score game but came no closer. Blake Sims plunged in from five yards out late in the third quarter and Amari Cooper caught a 6-yard pass from Sims for a score with just under two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. But Elliott’s 85-yard touchdown run with 3:24 remaining and Sims’ desperation heave that was intercepted in the end zone as time expired sealed Alabama’s fate.

“This team has excelled all year long,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “They've kept Alabama in the forefront of the country based on the hard work and the improvement that they made throughout the season.

“So I'm very proud of what this team was able to accomplish and winning the SEC as well as winning 12 football games in a very tough conference.”

The Buckeyes (13-1) move on to the first-ever College Football Playoff National Championship game on Jan. 12 in Arlington, Texas against Oregon. The Ducks routed Florida State, 59-20, in the other semifinal game held earlier in the day at the Rose Bowl.

Alabama raced out to an early 21-6 lead by the midway point in the second quarter but led only 21-20 at halftime. Ohio State had outgained the Crimson Tide 348-139 by the start of the third quarter.

“We really weren't stopping them. We kind of had the momentum of the game because of the turnovers,” Saban said. “We did not control the football game like we usually do.”

Jones, making his second straight start after beginning the season as Ohio State’s third-string quarterback, threw for 243 yards with one touchdown and one interception, while rushing for 43 more. Elliott carried 20 times for 230 yards and two touchdowns, including what proved to be the game-winning touchdown as Alabama attempted a late comeback.

Still, Alabama had a chance to tie and take the lead before the game’s final two scores. A poor Ohio State punt placed the Crimson Tide at the Buckeyes’ 23 down 34-28 with 9:53 left, but Sims was picked off at the goal line on the first play, ending the threat. Alabama scored two of its first three touchdowns earlier in the game, following Ohio State turnovers deep inside its own territory.

“Ohio State's a great defense,” Sims said. They played with a lot of passion today. The way they played we didn't have good looks here and there.  And the things that didn't happen good for the team, not good for the team, I take full responsibility for it, because it's probably something that I could have did better to help my team win. And that's all.”

Sims completed 22-of-36 passes for 237 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions in his final game for Alabama. Amari Cooper, who finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting last month, recorded nine receptions for 71 yards and two scores.