In a fourth quarter full of excitement, the best player in college football engineered the final and most memorable collection of highlights.
Jameis Winston drove No. 1 Florida State 80 yards in a little over one minute and his two-yard touchdown pass to Kelvin Benjamin with 13 seconds to play lifted the Seminoles to a 34-31 victory over No. 2 Auburn in the BCS National Championship at the Rose Bowl.
Winston, who won the Heisman Trophy last month, was 6-of-7 for 77 yards on the game-winning drive. After struggling through much of the first three quarters, the redshirt-freshman was outstanding in the final period, throwing for 117 yards and two touchdowns.
“I said guys ‘we didn’t come here for no reason.’ I said ‘guys, this is ours. We control our own destiny,’ and those men looked me in the eye and said ‘we got this Jameis,’” Winston said of the final drive. “We are champions together, everything we went through…I’m proud to say I’m a Florida State Seminole.”
“Jameis grew up today, tonight was probably the best football game he’s ever played,” said fourth-year Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher. “These kids are special, this group never faltered. They wanted to be elite, they wanted to go to the top.”
Winston became just the sixth player to win the Heisman and play for an undefeated national championship team, leading Florida State (14-0) to its first national crown since 1999 and third overall.
But for a while Monday it looked like a fellow Heisman finalist would be the hero.
Auburn’s Tre Mason, one of six finalists for the game’s top honor, had a beautiful touchdown run, breaking one tackle in the open field and scoring from 38 yards to give Auburn a 31-27 lead with 1:19 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Before that, Devonte Whitfield returned a kick off 100 yards to give Florida State its first lead of the night, 27-24 with four and a half minutes to play in the game.
Auburn once held an 18-point lead, but the advantage was sliced to 21-20 early in the fourth when P.J. Williams intercepted Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall at the Florida State 44. Winston then began his phenomenal fourth quarter, going 3-of-3 for 40 yards on a quick, five-play drive that culminated with an 11-yard touchdown toss to Chad Abram.
Auburn (12-2), which was trying to win its second national title in four years, took a four-point lead with 4:42 remaining in the game when Cody Parkey, who had missed his first field goal opportunity in the second quarter, booted a 23-yarder to make it 24-20.
Florida State got on the board first with an opening quarter field goal by Roberto Aguayo. Winston hooked up with Rashad Greene for a 29-yard completion on third-and-16 - Auburn cornerback Chris Davis fell down on the play, which helped to get Greene free - though Winston was sacked by Nosa Equae on another third down play and the Seminoles had to settle for Aguayo’s 35-yarder.
Auburn took its initial lead late in the first.
The Tigers had a great punt, pinning Florida State to its own 2, then the Seminoles went three-and-out and punted. Blessed with excellent field position after a 22-yard return by Davis, Mason caught a screen pass from Marshall and ran un-touched for a 12-yard touchdown and a 7-3 lead.
It was the first time Florida State had trailed in a game since September 28 against Boston College.
The deficit grew to the Seminoles’ largest since that same Boston College team held a 14-point cushion. Mason had a 23-yard scamper to the 38, the Seminoles were hit with a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty on the play and Marshall followed with a 50-yard touchdown toss to a wide open Melvin Ray and it was a 14-3 game.
Winston’s first half struggles continued midway through the second quarter as his fumble set up Auburn for another scoring drive.
On a scramble, Winston had the ball stripped by Angelo Blackson and Anthony Swain recovered for the Tigers. Marshall had a nice throw-and-catch with Quan Bray to the Florida State 12, and Marshall eventually scored from four yards to put the SEC champions up 21-3.
Shut down for nearly the entire first half, Florida State used a fake punt to try and swing some momentum back in its favor. It worked when on fourth-and-four the Seminoles used a direct snap and end-around to Karlos Williams, who ran for a seven-yard first down. Winston rebounded as well, scooting 21 yards on third-and-seven to the Auburn 3 and Devonta Freeman scored from three yards to get the ACC champions to within 21-10 just before halftime.
Aguayo’s 41-yard field goal midway through the third made it a 21-13 game.
“We got it down to a one score game, our kids believed,” said Fisher. “These kids are special.”
Mason, who was coming off an SEC title game-record 303 rushing yards, finished with 195 rushing yards Monday. Marshall threw for 217 yards for Auburn, which had its nine-game winning streak snapped.