Hollywood could not have scripted a better ending to the BCS era in college football. Following great endings in each of the previous BCS bowl games, the BCS Championship Game did not disappoint. Down four points with just over a minute to play, Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Jameis Winston was charged with having to lead the Seminoles 80 yards for the game-winning score, and he delivered. A short pass over the middle to Kelvin Benjamin was held on to for a go-ahead touchdown with just 13 seconds to play. Auburn, the team of destiny heading in to the title game, had seen their magic run out, and Florida State brought a death-blow to the SEC’s BCS championship winning streak in the final BCS Championship Game to be played.
Florida State 34, Auburn 31.
So long BCS. Thanks for the memories.
Florida State was down 21-3 in the second quarter, but the game never got away from them. Any question about how this team would handle adversity was answered in most dramatic fashion under the brightest spotlight of the season. Florida State scored a late touchdown in the second quarter when Winston completed the first of his two touchdowns to Devonta Freeman to make it a 21-10 deficit at the half. The Seminoles tacked on three points in the third quarter and set up a one-score game heading in to the final quarter of the college football season.
Florida State continued to carry the momentum in the fourth quarter by pulling to within one point of the Tigers. A Jameis Winston touchdown pass to Chad Abram on the right side of the field made it a two-point game, 21-19, but an unsportsmanlike penalty on Devonta Freeman for taunting the Auburn sideline following the score held Florida State to nothing more than an extra point attempt rather than potentially going for a game-tying two-point conversion. The video replay showed it may have been a tad of an overreaction by the Big Ten referee, but it was still a situation that could have easily been avoided by Freeman.
The penalty was enforced on the ensuing kickoff, giving Auburn a free 15-yard head start on what turned out to be a pivotal possession. Auburn traveled 69 yards and ran just over six minutes of clock but had to settle for a field goal. This gave Auburn a 24-20 lead, but it was short-lived. A 100-yard kickoff return by Levonte Whitfield electrified the Florida State section of the Rose Bowl with the first lead of the night by the Seminoles since a 3-0 lead in the first quarter. Florida State finally clawed all the way back, but the defense failed to come up with a stop.
Auburn, who had come up with late momentum-shifting plays down the stretch of the season with a bit of flair, did so once again by going to their strength, the running game. the Tigers capped a 75-yard drive on eight plays, leaving 1:19 left on the game clock. The final play of the drive came when Heisman finalist running back Tre Mason ran over a Florida State defender and ran 37-yards for a touchdown. The way things had gone this season for Auburn you may have thought that would have been the cherry on top of a miraculous turnaround season for Gus Malzahn‘s Tigers, but this time it was Florida State who had one last memorable drive in them.
A total of 80 yards separated Florida State from a national title. The team that had been the most dominant team from the start of the season through the conference championships, needed to dig deeper than they had early in the year against Boston College and much deeper than needed against Clemson or Miami. Adversity? Like everything else this season, Winston and Florida State brushed it off their shoulders like it was no big deal. Except that it really was.
Winston completed the first three plays of the drive to move the offense down to the Auburn 17-yard line. The big play was a 49-yard completion to Rashad Greene, but a defensive pass interference on Auburn’s Chris Davis in the end zone on a 3rd and eight gave Florida State a free first down at the two-yard line. On the very next play Winston found his favorite target, Benjamin, for the game and championship clinching touchdown.
The college football season is now in the books. Florida State won their third national championship in school history, and brought the BCS era full circle.