PASADENA, Calif. – Trailing by four on a night where he struggled early and often, Jameis Winston, Florida State’s Heisman winning quarterback, delivered when it mattered most. Winston led the Seminoles on an 80-yard, game-winning touchdown drive with just 1:18 remaining in the game to give FSU a 34-31 victory over Auburn and the BCS national championship.
It capped a title game that finished in a back-and-forth flurry that saw three different touchdowns – including a 100-yard kickoff return for FSU's Kermit Whitfield– in the final six minutes of play.
Winston produced the game-winner with a clutch 2-yard touchdown pass to Kelvin Benjamin with just 13 seconds remaining to finish 6-of-7 for 77 yards on the final drive.
"This is the best football game he's played, because he struggled for three quarters and that's a great team we played on the other side and great players understand great moments," Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said on the podium after the game. "That's what great players do."
[Slideshow: Check out photos of the final BCS title game here]
The Seminoles (14-0) completed a dream season by winning the final BCS title and ending the SEC’s run of seven consecutive titles. The beleaguered system will be replaced by a playoff next season.
Winston finished 20-of-35 for 237 yards and two touchdowns, numbers that belie a fitful performance most of the night. He was sacked four times and stripped of the ball once. Auburn led 21-3 in the first half and appeared poised to break the game open.
However, FSU’s defense was brilliant, bucking up and controlling Auburn’s vaunted running attack for long stretches of the game. FSU also had a decided special teams advantage, converting a fake punt in the first half and getting a game changing touchdown by freshman speedster Whitfield on a 100-yard kickoff return that gave FSU a fourth-quarter lead.
Auburn responded though with a strong drive capped by a bulldozing 37-yard touchdown run by Tre Mason that gave the Tigers a 31-27 lead.
That’s when Winston, and wide receiver Rashad Greene, put together a drive they will toast for the ages in Tallahassee.
"I mean, that's a storybook moment right there," Winston said after the game. "I was ready. I wanted to be in that situation because that's what great quarterbacks do. That's what the Tom Bradys, Peyton Mannings, Drew Brees', that's what they do.
"That last drive, that's a great way to cap off our season. That's the way we wanted to cap off our season."
The victory was a show of FSU resilience. The Seminoles arrived as a decided favorite but were knocked back early by the Tigers and fell into a 21-3 hole. Fisher doubled down late in the second half, converting on a gutsy fake punt play from the FSU 40-yard line as Karlos Williams ran the ball 7 yards on a Fourth-and-4.
The call seemingly stopped the bleeding and swung the momentum in the Seminoles' favor as Florida State drove the length of the field before Devonta Freeman scored on a 3-yard run to cut Auburn's lead to 21-10 heading into halftime.
"I knew with five minutes to go [in the second quarter] if they got it back and scored, the game could be over right there before half," Fisher said. "I thought that's what we had to do to gain the momentum of the game back, and it worked."
It worked to the tune of the biggest comeback in BCS title game history.