Winston, FSU rally to beat Auburn for title
Pasadena, CA (SportsNetwork.com) - The Bowl Championship Series went out with a bang.
Florida State took down the big, bad SEC.
And if a favorite has ever pulled off a shocker, this was it.
Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Kelvin Benjamin with 13 seconds remaining to lift the top-ranked Seminoles to a 34-31 win over No. 2 Auburn in an instant-classic BCS National Championship Game on Monday at the Rose Bowl.
The Seminoles (14-0) captured their third national championship and second BCS title, the last coming in 1999. The happy ending seemed a long way off when the Seminoles trailed by 18 late in the second half.
Benjamin's go-ahead touchdown came during a frantic final 4:42, during which the teams combined for 24 points.
Kermit Whitfield's 100-yard kickoff return after a Tigers field goal gave the Seminoles their first lead since 3-0. Tre Mason's 37-yard touchdown run then put Auburn back on top.
Florida State got the ball back with 71 seconds remaining at its own 20-yard line.
"I felt pretty good at that point," said first-year Auburn coach Gus Malzahn.
But Winston, so cold in the first half, went 6-for-7 on the final drive with a 49-yard pass to Rashad Greene that got Florida State past midfield. Later, the Seminoles got some help when Iron Bowl hero Chris Davis was called for pass interference on a throw into the end zone.
Davis, 5-foot-11, was no match for the 6-foot-5 Benjamin on the final throw into the middle of the end zone.
"I wanted to be in that situation because that's what great quarterbacks do," said Winston, the game's offensive MVP, who also celebrated his 20th birthday.
"That's what the Tom Bradys, Peyton Mannings, Drew Breeses, Cam Newtons do. Any quarterback can go out and perform when he's up 50-0 in the second quarter. ... I'm pretty sure I got more respect from my teammates and the people around me on that last drive than I did all year."
Winston finished 20-of-35 for 237 yards and two touchdowns despite going just 6-of-15 for 62 yards in the first half.
The redshirt freshman -- cleared last month in a sexual assault investigation after a woman accused him of raping her in December 2012 -- became the first frosh to win the Heisman and a national championship in the same season.
"This is the best football game he's played because he struggled for three quarters," said Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher. "Great players understand great moments."
Devonta Freeman ran for 73 yards and a touchdown for the Seminoles but also was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after Chad Abram's 11-yard touchdown catch, keeping his team from going for a two-point conversion and a tie score early in the fourth quarter.
Florida State trailed 21-3 before a fake punt led to a touchdown, and momentum shift, before halftime.
Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall passed for 217 yards and two touchdowns -- including a 50-yarder to Melvin Ray -- and also ran for a score, but threw a fourth-quarter interception that led to a Florida State TD.
Mason, the Heisman finalist, gained 195 yards on 34 carries and also had a touchdown catch for the Tigers (12-2), who were trying to win the SEC's eighth straight BCS title.
Instead, the ACC-champion Seminoles became the first team outside the SEC to beat a team from that conference in the BCS title game.
This is the last season of the Bowl Championship Series. The four-team College Football Playoff starts next season.
"We played good all night but we had a couple busts in the end," said Auburn's Davis. "We just didn't come up with a stop when we needed to and we usually do that as a defense."
After P.J. Williams leapt to pick Marshall's pass off near the right sideline two minutes into the fourth quarter, Abram hurdled Auburn's Ryan Smith near the goal line on his 11-yard TD catch to get the Seminoles within 21-19.
Freeman, as he backed away from the Auburn sideline from the opposite side of the field, gestured toward the Tigers for several seconds and was flagged and the Seminoles had to settle for a point-after kick.
Ricardo Louis had a 26-yard catch on the ensuing Auburn drive but the Tigers ran the ball on 10 of the 12 plays and Cody Parkey kicked a 22-yard field goal to give them a 24-20 lead with 4:42 left.
Then, the fireworks.
Whitfield, a freshman wide receiver who reportedly runs a 4.37-second 40-yard dash, went untouched on his kick return, fielding the ball a yard or so deep in the end zone and taking it out to the left sideline.
Auburn, of course, got as far as the national championship game after two miracle plays, one of them Davis' missed field goal return from the back of the end zone to shock then-No. 1 Alabama in the Iron Bowl. Two weeks earlier, Marshall's 73-yard touchdown to Louis on a tipped pass beat Georgia.
The Tigers turned to Mason this time, and he ran through Florida State's Jalen Ramsey on his 37-yard touchdown to give his team its last lead.
Earlier, special teams gave Auburn good field position for its first score. After Steven Clark pinned FSU inside the 1-yard line with a 38-yard punt, the Seminoles went three-and-out and Davis returned the ensuing punt 22 yards.
Mason caught a screen pass for a 12-yard touchdown and 7-3 Auburn lead with 3:07 left in the first quarter.
Florida State, after gaining at least 15 yards on three plays during its first drive to set up Roberto Aguayo's 35-yard field goal, was forced to punt three possessions in a row after that.
The Seminoles didn't look like the No. 1 pass defense in the country on Ray's 50-yard TD, leaving him all alone in the secondary. He caught the ball around the 32-yard line and gave Auburn a 14-3 lead 1:12 into the second quarter.
Auburn's Parkey missed a 33-yard field goal try wide right later in the second but the Tigers got the ball back at the FSU 27 after Angelo Blackson stripped Winston on second down and Marshall scored on a run to make it 21-3.
On an Auburn 4th-and-4, Karlos Williams picked up seven yards on a fake punt end-around and Freeman scored with 88 seconds remaining in the half to pull the Seminoles within 11.
"I knew if they got it back and scored, the game could be over right there," said Fisher of his fake punt call.
Benjamin, FSU's biggest receiving threat, didn't get his first two catches until his team's second possession of the third quarter, which ended in Aguayo's 41-yard field goal to get the Seminoles within 21-13.
Both teams had been off for nearly a month. On Dec. 7, Auburn beat Missouri in the SEC championship game and Florida State topped Duke in the ACC title game ... Florida State won its sixth straight bowl games, tying Ole Miss for the longest current bowl winning streak ... Florida State, which has made a bowl appearance in an FBS-high 32 straight seasons, went 2-2 in the BCS title game. The Seminoles lost to Tennessee in the first BCS game, won the second over Virginia Tech, then lost to Oklahoma the following season ... Auburn has a 13-5-1 lead in the all-time series ... Auburn had a nine-game winning streak snapped ... Florida State became the 11th team to win three national titles, joining Alabama (9), Notre Dame (8), Oklahoma (7), Miami (5), USC (5), Minnesota (4), Nebraska (4), Ohio State (4), Florida (3) and Texas (3).
01/07 02:36:22 ET