Florida State tops Auburn for final BCS title, 34-31

BCS Championship

Credit: Getty Images

PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 06: Quarterback Nick Marshall #14 of the Auburn Tigers is hit as he throws against the Florida State Seminoles during the 2014 Vizio BCS National Championship Game at the Rose Bowl on January 6, 2014 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

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by RALPH D. RUSSO

Associated Press

Posted on January 7, 2014 at 12:17 AM

Updated Tuesday, Jan 7 at 1:48 AM

PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — Jameis Winston and Florida State faced down adversity for the first time this season, and showed they could take a punch if that's what it took to win a national championship.

The Heisman Trophy winner threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Kelvin Benjamin with 13 seconds left and No. 1 Florida State beat No. 2 Auburn 34-31 to win the BCS championship game on Monday night.

"There's a lot of heart and guts down in Tallahassee, too," coach Jimbo Fisher said.

The Bowl Championship Series went out with a bang, with one of the best championship games in its 16-year history. And the Southeastern Conference's seven-year winning streak in college football's biggest game was snapped.

Winston struggled much of the night but was near perfect when the Seminoles (14-0) needed it most, going 6 for 7 for 77 yards on the game-winning 80 yard drive. A pass interference penalty on Auburn's Chris Davis gave Florida State a first-and-goal at the 2 and on the next play Winston hit his big receiver, Benjamin, for the touchdown in traffic.

There was no miracle finish this time for the turnaround Tigers. They tossed the ball around on one final play, but it ended with Florida State jumping on a fumble, and the Seminoles sprinting onto the field under a storm of garnet and gold confetti.

Tre Mason had given Auburn (12-2) a 31-27 lead with a 37-yard touchdown run with 1:19 left after Kermit Whitfield had put Florida State in the lead for the first time since the first quarter with a 100-yard kickoff return to make it 27-24 with 4:31 left.

Mason ran for 195 yards and Nick Marshall threw two touchdown passes for the Tigers.

"I told them in the locker room, we put together the biggest turnaround in the history of college football. We were on the brink of making it one of those magical seasons," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said.

Winston was 20 for 35 for 237 yards and two fourth-quarter touchdown passes. Florida State hadn't been challenged like this all season, winning by an average of 42 points.

The redshirt freshman, who turned 20 Monday, told his teammates: "I said `Guys, we didn't come here for no reason.' I said `Y'all, this is ours, man.'"

The Seminoles were down 21-3 in the first half, and wobbling, but never fell over.

And now Florida State is national champion for the first time since 1999, the first team to win it after being down at halftime.

Winston was jumpy against a strong Auburn pass rush, led by Dee Ford. He was sacked four times.

The Seminoles cut it to 21-10 with a late touchdown in the second quarter and chipped into Auburn's lead with a 41-yard field goal by Roberto Aguayo with 6:05 left in the third.

Meanwhile, Florida State had found some answers to Auburn's spread offense. A holding penalty that wiped out a long pass also helped keep the Tigers scoreless in the third quarter, and the Seminoles began the fourth with P.J. Williams intercepting Marshall's pass and setting up Florida State at its 38.

When Winston tossed in the flats to Chad Abram, who hurdled over a tackler on the way to an 11-yard touchdown the lead was 21-19. Florida State was considering going for two to tie, but Devonta Freeman was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct and that pushed the extra point back 15 yards and forced the Seminoles to kick and make it 21-20.

Auburn responded with its best drive since the second quarter, mixing runs by Mason and Marshall with one big pass to Ricardo Louis. But it stalled at the 6 and Cody Parkey added a 22-yard field goal to make it 24-20 with 4:42 left.

During Winston's record-breaking season, filled with blowouts and fourth quarters spent watching from the sideline, he never faced a situation in which he had to drive his team to a winning score.

Now he had a chance to add that last line to his remarkable resume - until Whitfield handled it for him.

Whitfield broke through a seam around the 30 and hit the sideline at full speed. Fisher ran down the other sideline yelling "Go! Go!" with Winston chasing behind pumping his arms and slapping his coach on the back. Florida State was on top, but Auburn was not done.

Mason and Marshall went to work, driving Auburn into Florida State territory, and Auburn's Heisman finalist, Mason, finished it off by bowling over Florida State safety Jalen Ramsey on the way to the end zone.

Auburn billed itself as a team of destiny, having gone from 3-9 to SEC champs under first-year coach Malzahn - with the help of some miraculous finishes.

But for much of the first half team destiny, the 10-point underdog, was dominating.

Marshall flipped into the flats for Mason, who followed a few wipe-out blocks and zipped into the end zone for a 12-yard score with 3:07 left in the first quarter. Florida State trailed for the first time since Sept. 28 against Boston College.

The hole got deeper.

With Florida State's linebackers and safeties peeking into the backfield again, Auburn broke another receiver free down the middle. Marshall threw a strike this time to Melvin Ray, who went 50 yards for his first career touchdown and a 14-3 lead.

Meanwhile, for maybe the first time this season, Winston looked rattled. After completing three of his first four passes, he went 1 for 7, including a simple short throw that sailed high and missed its target by at least 10 yards. Fisher could be seen yelling to his coaches that they needed to calm down Winston.

Auburn's defense certainly didn't look as if it ranked 89th in the country in yards allowed per game. Ford was getting pressure on Winston, Chris Davis defended three passes and the Tigers' D was playing like so many other SEC defenses that have controlled so many other BCS championship games during the conference's reign over college football.

Ben Bradley and Angelo Blackson sandwiched Winston as he tried to tuck and run and the ball came loose. Auburn recovered at Florida State's 27 and soon after Marshall swept in from 4 yards out for a 21-3 lead with 5:01 left in the first half.

Florida State finally came alive with the help of some trickery and some old-fashioned want-to from Winston. Facing fourth-and-4 in their own territory, the Seminoles faked the punt and ran a reverse to Karlos Williams that went for 7 yards.

Then Winston asserted himself in not the typical way for the most efficient passer in the country. On third-and-7, he broke free of the pocket, stiff-armed past one Auburn tackler and went for 21 yards to the 3. Freeman plunged into the end zone on the next play to make it 21-10 with 1:28 left in the half.

Fisher patted Winston on the helmet as the quarterback shook his head, as if to say, `I'm better now.'


 

PASADENA, Calif. (AP) -- A look at the BCS championship game Monday night between top-ranked Florida State and No. 2 Auburn at the Rose Bowl.

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IT'S OVER: Florida State edges Auburn 34-31 for its third national championship in a thrilling finish as the BCS goes out with a bang.

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BACK AND FORTH: What a fourth quarter!

Florida State goes back ahead 34-31 on Jameis Winston's 2-yard touchdown pass to Kelvin Benjamin with 13 seconds left, and Auburn needs another miracle.

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WHAT A FINISH! Auburn comes right back and regains the lead at 31-27 when Tre Mason runs over a tackler for a 37-yard touchdown with 1:19 to play.

Mason, who has 195 yards rushing, flashes a quick Heisman pose and pats his own chest. Florida State's defense sure looked tired on that drive, and Nick Marshall made a terrific play to convert a key third down.

This time, Auburn covers the kickoff. Jameis Winston and the Seminoles have two timeouts left and they need a TD.

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TWIST OF FATE: Florida State grabs a 27-24 lead on Levonte Whitfield's 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown with 4:31 left.

What a twist! In the regular-season finale, of course, it was Chris Davis' 109-yard return of a missed field goal that lifted Auburn to a thrilling win over rival Alabama and gave the Tigers a chance to reach this game.

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BIG MISTAKES: With his team nursing an eight-point lead early in the fourth quarter, Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall throws a costly interception to P.J. Williams. Florida State drives 56 yards in five plays, scoring on Jameis Winston's 11-yard touchdown pass to Chad Abram.

Devonta Freeman, however, gets an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for taunting the Auburn sideline, which pushes the ball back 15 yards for the try. Huge gaffe. So rather than go for a 2-point conversion that could have tied the game, the Seminoles kick an extra point that trims it to 21-20 with 10:55 remaining.

Auburn responds by grinding out a 12-play, 69-yard drive to a 22-yard field goal for a 24-20 lead with 4:42 to go.

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SIMPLY THE BEST: Auburn is one quarter from making it five years in a row that the winner of the Iron Bowl has gone on to win the national championship.

FIVE IN A ROW! Unthinkable. One state, two teams, top of the mountain.

That's why Auburn-Alabama is by far the best rivalry in sports right now. Not Yankees-Red Sox, not Duke-Carolina, not Ohio State-Michigan, Harvard-Yale, Lehigh-Lafayette or Williams-Amherst. Not even close.

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TIDE TURNING: Florida State drives 67 yards to a 41-yard field goal by Roberto Aguayo, cutting its deficit to 21-13 in the third quarter. And now, the Seminoles defense appears to be figuring things out. Auburn goes three-and-out and punts back to FSU.

Big chance for the Seminoles, but they go three-and-out when Winston gets sacked by Dee Ford. The redshirt freshman Heisman Trophy winner has been under pressure all night - and he doesn't look all that elusive against the speedy Auburn defenders.

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BUTTER FINGERS: Auburn has muffed two punts and a kickoff, recovering all three times. Tigers better be more sure-handed the rest of the way. Don't want to keep trying their luck.

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DEE-FENSE: Auburn's defense was supposed to be a major question mark in this game after the Tigers earned a suspect reputation with shaky performances throughout the season. But they held Florida State's high-powered offense to 156 yards in the first half on 4.7 per play.

Auburn even stopped the Seminoles twice on one drive, overcoming a roughing-the-punter penalty that gave FSU a first down.

Meanwhile, there's a huge hole behind the linebackers in the middle of the Florida State defense. With the Seminoles geared up to slow Auburn's prolific ground attack, QB Nick Marshall keeps exploiting the middle of the field with wide-open receivers. Marshall is not known for his proficiency as a passer. Can he keep it up in the second half?

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STILL IN IT: Florida State got a brief reprieve when Auburn missed a 33-yard field goal attempt in the second quarter, and the Seminoles later faked a punt to convert on fourth-and-4 late in the period. Jameis Winston led a touchdown drive that got FSU back in it at 21-10 after Devonta Freeman's 3-yard run with 1:28 left in the half.

Seminoles get the ball to start the second half and coach Jimbo Fisher says he likes where his team is going into halftime. Auburn coach Gus Malzahn says Tigers will try to wear down FSU in the second half. Auburn had the ball for almost 17 minutes in the opening half and was 8 of 12 on third down to 2 for 8 for Florida State.

Chris Fowler on ESPN just said the team leading at halftime is undefeated in BCS championship games. The Seminoles are down at halftime for the first time all season.

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HEISMAN HISTORY LESSON: From Vinny Testaverde to Chris Weinke and Sam Bradford, plenty of Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks have struggled in the national championship game. In the BCS era, QBs who had just won college football's biggest individual prize are 2-5 in national title games.

There must be something to it - not just coincidence. These Heisman winners spend much of December accepting awards and congratulations on the rubber-chicken circuit, going to banquets halfway around the country instead of the film room. Not exactly the best way to prepare for a top-notch defense itching to get its shot at the player getting all the hype.

This is turning into one of those nightmares so far for Winston, who fumbled in his own territory in the second quarter, leading to Auburn's third touchdown and a 21-3 Tigers lead. Nick Marshall ran it in from 4 yards out.

Winston, on his 20th birthday, was 6 of 15 for 62 yards in the first half - and he took some solid hits. Hasn't seen that kind of pressure all season. He did make some key plays on FSU's touchdown drive, scrambling for a big first down.

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WIDE OPEN: Gus Malzahn and his up-tempo Auburn offense have Florida State fooled right now. Tigers just went 85 yards on three plays, capped by a 50-yard TD pass from Nick Marshall to Melvin Ray. WIDE open down the middle. Auburn faked a jet sweep and it appeared Marshall actually had his choice of two open receivers on the play. Tigers lead 14-3 early in the second quarter and just got the ball back.

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IN FRONT: Auburn catches Florida State in a blitz on third-and-9 and Nick Marshall hits Tre Mason with a little swing pass for a 12-yard touchdown. Well-blocked, nicely executed. The extra point gives Auburn a 7-3 lead late in the first quarter. ESPN graphic alerts viewers that it's the first time Florida State has trailed since Sept. 28 at Boston College. Wow.

Anyone who thought Auburn didn't match up in this game, that's out the window. The Tigers may not win, but they certainly match up athletically with FSU on both sides of the ball.

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BIG NUMBER: Sure, Florida State beat its opponents by an average of 43 points this season and won every game by at least two touchdowns. But was anyone else surprised to see the Seminoles favored by 10 points in this game? Last time we checked, the SEC had won seven national championships in a row, right? That schedule for FSU was far from a gauntlet.

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STAYING READY: Auburn punter Steven Clark wasn't needed much down the stretch as the Tigers rolled up points with their high-powered offense. But he just pinned Florida State on its own 2-yard line. Auburn holds and gets great field position after Chris Davis' punt return.

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ON THE BOARD: The first drive for Jameis Winston and Florida State results in a 35-yard field goal by Roberto Aguayo. Seminoles lead 3-0.

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FIRST SERIES: Tre Mason goes for 11 yards on Auburn's first play, but then Florida State stiffens on two running plays to force third-and-7. Ricardo Louis, who caught that crazy, deflected Hail Mary to beat Georgia, was WIDE open deep downfield but dropped a throw at his knees. Underthrown a bit by Nick Marshall, but Louis could have caught it - and he might have scored if he did. TV shows FSU secondary confused trying to get lined up properly on the play. After squandering a great opportunity, Tigers have to punt it away.

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LUCKY CHARM: Florida State coaching great Bobby Bowden and 1985 Heisman Trophy winner Bo Jackson from Auburn were the honorary captains for the coin toss. The Seminoles won the toss and deferred to the second half, giving Nick Marshall and the Tigers the ball first.

And we're underway at the Rose Bowl in the final BCS championship game.

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GOVERNOR'S PICK: Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who along with his wife, Ann, was decked out in garnet as they entered the Rose Bowl, predicted a huge win for Florida State.

"It's exciting to be the governor when we're going to win a national championship," Scott said. "It's exciting to beat Auburn. It would have been exciting to beat Alabama or Auburn. It's going to be a big win. I predict 47-10 will be the score. It's not even going to be close."

Scott made the traditional bet with Alabama Gov. Robert J. Bentley, putting up a key lime pie against a gallon of lemonade from Toomer's Drugs on the Auburn campus.

"I'm looking forward to the lemonade," Scott said. "I hope Governor Bentley's already sent the lemonade for our bet. There's no chance I'll have to send any key lime pie to him."

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STAR POWER: The sidelines at the Rose Bowl before the BCS championship game were filled with celebrities from around the sports world. In one corner of the field, Heisman Trophy winners Charlie Ward and Johnny Manziel spoke with Patriots owner Robert Kraft.

John Salley, a two-time NBA champion with the Detroit Pistons, was seen walking through the crowd.

Minnesota Vikings and former Seminoles quarterback Christian Ponder was on the Florida State sideline with wife and ESPN reporter Samantha.

Heisman winner and Auburn running back Bo Jackson was also on the field before the game.

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LINEUPS:

Florida State starters listed on the press box depth charts:

Offense: QB Jameis Winston; FB Chad Abram; TB Devonta Freeman; WR Rashad Greene; WR Kelvin Benjamin; WR Kenny Shaw; TE Nick O'Leary; LT Cameron Erving; LG Josue Matias; C Bryan Stork; RG Tre' Jackson; R Bobby Hart.

Defense: LE Eddie Goldman; DT Nile Lawrence-Stample; NG Timmy Jernigan; RE Mario Edwards Jr.; SLB Christian Jones; MLB Terrance Smith; WLB Telvin Smith; CB P.J. Williams; CB Lamarcus Joyner; CB Ronald Darby; SS Terrance Brooks; FS Jalen Ramsey.

Specialists: K Roberto Aguyao; P Cason Beatty; LS Phillip Doumar; H Cason Beatty; PR Kenny Shaw; KR Karlos Williams; KR Kermit Whitfield.

Auburn starters listed on the press box depth charts:

Offense: QB Nick Marshall; RB Tre Mason; H-B Jay Prosch; TE C.J. Uzomah; WR Sammie Coates; WR Quan Bray; LT Greg Robinson; LG Alex Kozan; C Reese Dismukes; RG Chad Slade; RT Avery Young.

Defense: DE Dee Ford; DT Nosa Eguae; DT Gabe Wright; DE LaDarius Owens; MLB Jake Holland; WLB Cassanova McKinzy; STAR Robenson Therezie; CB Jonathon Mincy; FS Jermain Whitehead; BS Ryan Smith; CB Chris Davis.

Specialists: K Cody Parkey; P Steven Clark; LS Jake Lembke; H Ryan White; KR Corey Grant; PR Chris Davis.

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Florida State star Jameis Winston turned 20 on Monday. Seminoles fans serenaded him with Happy Birthday about 40 minutes before the game. Winston is the youngest player to win the Heisman Trophy and would be the first freshman quarterback to lead his team to a BCS championship.

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COMMISSIONERS: SEC Commissioner Mike Slive and his predecessor, Roy Kramer, shared a handshake and a brief laugh on the sideline at the Rose Bowl about 90 minutes before kickoff.

Slive took over for Kramer in 2003 and since then the SEC has become the dominant conference in college football, winning the last seven national titles and raking in billions of dollars for its members.

Kramer laid the groundwork from 1990-2002, expanding the SEC to 12 teams and creating the conference championship game, The BCS was also his brainchild. He was scheduled to be honored on the field before kickoff of the final BCS championship game between No. 1 Florida State and No. 2 Auburn.

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TEBOW TIME: Tim Tebow was part of ESPN's blowout coverage of the BCS championship, sharing a set with Mark May and Lou Holtz on the sideline at the Rose Bowl.

Sporting a snug gray suit, Tebow was on the set chatting with colleague Rece Davis when Auburn's band strolled by about two hours before kickoff.

"Oh my God, that's Tim Tebow," a band member exclaimed.

Davis said the new guy was working out well. "He watched film of each game the teams have played," Davis said.

Tebow recently signed a deal with ESPN to be part of the SEC Network, which launches next season.

The ESPN BCS Megacast included coverage on all its TV networks, ESPN3 online, at ESPN.com and on Twitter.

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