COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Florida State edge Auburn to win championship
PASADENA, Calif. -- Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston hit wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin for a 2-yard touchdown with 13 seconds left, lifting No. 1 Florida State to a 34-31 victory over No. 2 Auburn in a wild finish to the BCS National Championship Game on Monday at the Rose Bowl.
Florida State, which trailed 21-10 late in the second quarter, completed the largest comeback for a win in a BCS title game. The BCS system will be scrapped next season, when a four-team playoff will begin determine college football's champion.
Winston's game-winning pass capped an 80-yard drive in seven plays after the Tigers took lead.
Auburn running back Tre Mason's 37-yard touchdown run with 1:19 remaining gave the Tigers a 31-27 lead, but Winston, who suffered through a rough first half, and the Seminoles wouldn't be denied.
The big play of the decisive drive came when Winston completed a 49-yard pass to wide receiver Rashad Greene, moving the ball to the Auburn 23.
The Tigers were shooting for their second national title in four years. Auburn's loss also snapped the Southeastern Conference's string of seven consecutive national titles.
Levonte Whitfield's 100-yard kickoff return gave Florida State a 27-24 lead with 4:31 left. Whitfield's return occurred after Auburn took a 24-20 lead on a 22-yard field goal by Cody Parkey with 4:42 remaining.
Whitfield caught the ball about a yard deep into the end zone, darted up the left side and scored, giving Florida State its first lead since the first quarter.
Mason, who finished with 195 yards on 34 carries, became Auburn's single-season rushing record holder. He finished with 1,816 rushing yards, breaking Bo Jackson's mark of 1,786 yards.
An interception by sophomore defense back P.J. Williams of Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall at the Florida State 40 led to the Seminoles pulling within one of the Tigers. Winston connected with fullback Chad Abram for an 11-yard scoring pass with 10:55 remaining, cutting Auburn's lead to 21-20.
Greene made nine receptions for 147 yards. Winston wound up 20-for-35 for 237 yards and two touchdowns.
Marshall completed 14 of 27 passes for 230 yards and two touchdowns with one interception.
Auburn allowed a 41-yard field goal by Florida State kicker Roberto Aguayo in the third quarter, but Tigers still held a 21-13 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
After a three-and-out on Florida State's first drive after halftime, Winston drove the Seminoles 67 yards in 11 plays to the Tigers' 24 before the drive stalled. Florida State settled for Aguayo's field goal with 6:06 remaining in the third quarter. It was the only score of the quarter.
The Tigers' offense couldn't muster much in the third, managing just two first down and 45 yards. Florida State produced 96 yards and five first downs in the quarter.
Marshall threw for two first-half touchdowns and ran for another.
Auburn jumped ahead 21-3 before Winston led the Seminoles on a 66-yard touchdown drive that ended less than two minutes before halftime.
Florida State got a 35-yard field goal by Aguayo on its first drive, but Auburn dominated the rest of the half.
After pinning the Seminoles at their own 2 and forcing a punt, the Tigers got possession at the Florida State 25 after Chris Davis returned Cason Beatty's kick 22 yards.
Six plays later, Mason caught a short pass from Marshall and strolled 12 yards into the end zone for a 7-3 Auburn lead with 3:07 left in the quarter.
The Tigers struck again as Marshall found wide receiver Melvin Ray for a 50-yard touchdown pass and a 14-3 lead at 13:48 of the second quarter.
A fumble by Winston, forced by defensive tackle Angelo Blackson and recovered by linebacker Anthony Swain at the Seminoles' 27, led to Auburn's next score. Marshall outran the Seminoles to the corner of the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown run for a 21-3 advantage with 5:01 remaining in the second.
Florida State, buoyed by running back Karlos Williams gaining 7 yards to convert a fake punt on fourth-and-4, marched 11 plays for a touchdown. Running back Devonta Freeman scored on a 3-yard run to cut the deficit to 21-10 with 1:28 remaining in the half.
The Tigers harassed Winston into completing just six of 15 passes for 62 yards in the first half. Forty-three of the yards came on the first drive.
Marshall went 7-for-13 for 113 yards before halftime. Mason rushed for 96 first-half yards on 18 carries. Overall, Auburn finished the half with 232 yards in offense compared to 156 for Florida State.
NOTES: The two teams previously met 18 times. Auburn claimed the last meeting, a 20-17 decision in 1990 at Jordan-Hare Stadium. However, the Seminoles won three of the past four matchups, a 13-7 win in the 1989 Sugar Bowl being their last victory in the series. ... The game marked the 54th clash between No. 1 and No. 2 teams, with No. 1 teams owning a 29-21-3 advantage entering the game. In BCS matchups featuring the top two teams, No. 2 teams held an 8-7 edge. ... The winning team led at halftime in 14 of the 15 previous BCS National Championship Games. The lone exception was 2009, when Florida and Oklahoma were tied at intermission.