PASADENA, Calif. — 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.
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 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 Aguyao with 6:05 left in the third.
Meanwhile, Florida State had found some answers to Auburn’s spread offence. 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.