In what will go down as one of the greatest finishes in the history of college football, Florida State held off Auburn 34-31 to win its first National Championship since 1999.
Jameis Winston threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Kelvin Benjamin with 13 seconds left to put the Seminoles up by 3. Winston struggled in the first half, as Florida State trailed 21-3 in the second quarter, but he was 6 of 7 for 77 yards on the game-winning drive.
Tre Mason rushed for 195 yards and a touchdown in a losing effort including a 37-yard TD run with 1:19 to play that put Auburn up 31-27 with 1:19 to play.
"These kids are special," coach Jimbo Fisher said. "This group never faltered. They wanted to be elite. They wanted to go to the top and there's so much character in this group."
This marks Florida State's third national championship and first since 1999. It also ends the SEC's run of seven straight championships.
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 for the touchdown.
The Heisman Trophy winner finished the night 20-for-35 for 237 yards and two fourth-quarter touchdown passes.
T he freshman quarterback went 6-for-15 for 62 yards in the first half on his 20th birthday, with a key fumble setting up Marshall’s 4-yard touchdown run 5:01 before halftime. Winston also led a 66-yard scoring drive late in the first half and consistently moved Florida State in the third quarter – but with only three points to show for it.
The powerful Seminoles trailed by 18 points in the second quarter and 21-10 at halftime -- the first halftime deficit since Sept. 28 for the team that went undefeated this season in 2013.
FSU picked up momentum in the third quarter with solid defensive play and improvements by Winston, who was fighting a case of big-game jitters.
Marshall, Winston’s relatively unheralded counterpart, looked sharp in the Auburn backfield. Auburn was the nation’s top rushing team, but coach Gus Malzahn showed the SEC champs can fling it as well while racking up 232 yards of offense in the first half.
Mason caught a 12-yard touchdown screen pass in the first quarter, and Ray ran alone down the middle with a 50-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter.
Devonta Freeman had a 3-yard scoring run with 1:28 left in the half for Florida State, which faced its largest deficit and first halftime deficit of the season.
Auburn’s 85-yard drive early in the second quarter ended with a touchdown catch for Ray, the former minor league baseball player from Tallahassee who had just four receptions in the regular season. Florida State’s Jalen Ramsey failed to pick up Ray all alone down the middle. Ray juked a defender near the goal line and scored as the Tigers’ fans rocked the Rose Bowl stands with cheers.
Auburn’s Angelo Blackson then swatted the ball out of Winston’s hand on a run moments after the Tigers missed a field goal, and Marshall finished the drive by turning the corner on Florida State’s defense for a score.
A successful fake punt finally sparked the Seminoles moments later. Winston made a 21-yard run complete with a vicious stiff-arm to Auburn’s Kris Frost, and Freeman scored on the next play, trimming Auburn’s halftime lead to 21-10.
Auburn was making its second BCS championship game appearance after beating Oregon for the title four years ago behind Heisman winner Cam Newton. The Tigers went 3-9 last season, but Malzahn quickly returned them to the national spotlight.
The Seminoles had run over every opponent in their path to a third national title, but Fisher’s team was tested in Pasadena.