PASADENA, Calif. — Florida State had the talent, but did the Seminoles have heart? When a team pushed back, would they know what to do? With a freshman quarterback? With a championship on the line?
Florida State, college football’s most dynamic team, ended the season with a fourth-quarter rally and a heart-stopping final drive. Quarterback Jameis Winston’s 2-yard pass to Kelvin Benjamin in the back of the end zone gave the Seminoles a 34-31 victory in the BCS championship game at the Rose Bowl.
Auburn seemed to be on the verge of another miraculous fourth-quarter comeback.
Florida State took its first lead of the game, at 27-24, when Kermit Whifield returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown. But 4 minutes, 31 seconds remained, and things were just getting started.
Auburn then went 75 yards on eight plays, and scored on Tre Mason’s 37-yard touchdown run to take a 31-27 lead, but 1:19 remained, and that was enough time for Florida State.
The Seminoles drove 77 yards for Winston’s winning touchdown throw.
Florida State, a double-digit betting favorite, had it easy this season entering Monday’s game. The Seminoles trailed only three times in their first 13 games, never in the second half and never by more than 14 points. Auburn changed that in the second quarter.
Auburn scored 21 consecutive points to take a 21-3 second-quarter lead, and the Tigers’ maligned defense seemed to have Winston rattled. The Seminoles, one of college football’s most dynamic teams on both sides of the ball this season, rallied in the second half.
Florida State’s P.J. Williams intercepted Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall near midfield, early in the fourth quarter, and five plays later, Winston threw an 11-yard touchdown to Chad Abram to narrow Auburn’s lead to 21-20 with 10:55 remaining.
Auburn, the team that beat Georgia and Alabama with fourth-quarter miracles this season, then showed some mettle with a 13-play, 69-yard drive, but had to settle for a 22-yard field goal to extend its lead to 24-20 with 4:42 remaining. Then the kick-return magic happened for the Seminoles.
Winston, the youngest Heisman Trophy winner ever, turned 20 on Monday but didn’t have it easy. Winston struggled badly in the first half, with a fumble and several overthrows, but finished 20 of 35 for 237 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions.
Auburn’s offense defied expectations a bit. The Tigers had the top rushing offense in the country this season, and Marshall was thought to be something of a liability throwing the ball.
Marshall, though, made some big plays through the air and finished 13 of 25 for 197 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Marshall also rushed for 45 yards and a touchdown.
Mason, the Tigers’ big threat, had 195 yards on 34 carries.