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,” Florida State 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 stopped.
Winston struggled much of the night but was nearly perfect when the Seminoles (14-0) needed it most, completing six of seven passes 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.
“When I stepped to the line of scrimmage I knew it would be a touchdown,” Winston said. “When you see K.B. in one-on-one coverage, it’s like a dream come true.”
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.
“I told them in the locker room, we put together the biggest turnaround in the history of college football. We were on the brink of making it one of those magical seasons,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said.
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.
“This is why it’s the best game he [Winston] has played,” Fisher said. “He struggled, but great players have great moments. If that’s not a great player, I don’t know what is.”
The redshirt freshman, who turned 20 Monday, told his teammates: “I said ‘Guys, we didn’t come here for no reason.’ I said ‘Y’all, this is ours, man.’ ”
Winston was jumpy against a strong Auburn pass rush, led by Dee Ford. He was sacked four times.
Auburn defensive end Dee Ford, who successfully pressured Winston early, said he saw signs of youth from the redshirt freshman.
“He was hesitating a little bit, holding on to the ball too long,” Ford said. “I thought we had him rattled.”
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.