The BCS went out with an exclamation point.
In a frantic final few minutes, Florida State and Auburn traded huge plays, and the Seminoles came up with the final answer, a 2-yard pass from Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston to Kelvin Benjamin with 13 seconds remaining.
That score provided the winning points in Florida State’s 34-31 thriller in the final Bowl Championship Series title game.
“This team has guts, determination and character,” Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said.
Auburn had scored a minute earlier on Tre Mason’s 37-yard run. That score followed Kermit Whitfield’s 100-yard kickoff return for Florida State, which answered a Tigers’ field goal.
All of this happened in the final 5 minutes.
Top-ranked Florida State, 14-0, captured its first national championship since the 1999 season and third in the program’s history. This is Fisher’s first title. The previous two were won by legendary coach Bobby Bowden.
The program had fallen from national championship contention over the last decade or so, but the Seminoles are back.
“We’re a program again,” Fisher said.
Auburn, 12-2, came within an eyelash of writing one of the greatest turnaround stories in the game’s history. From a 0-8 Southeastern Conference record last season to the brink of a second national championship in four years under first-year coach Gus Malzahn, the Tigers were amazing.
“We were on the brink of making it one of those national seasons,” Malzahn said.
“Our program’s future is very bright right now. We’re going up. Our goal is to get back here, and I believe we’ll do it.”
Auburn had the feel of a team of destiny, defeating Georgia on a final-minute tipped pass and Alabama on the field-length return of a missed field goal.
The fortune appeared to follow the Tigers to the Rose Bowl as they built a 21-3 lead.
“I was worried about the momentum at that point,” Fisher said.
But Florida State rallied, adjusting to Auburn’s offense and coming up with big plays on both sides of the ball.
P.J. Williams got an interception early in the fourth quarter, and the Seminoles turned the Auburn mistake into points when Winston hit Chad Abram from 11 yards out for a touchdown that closed the Auburn lead to 21-20 with 10:55 remaining.
The Tigers answered with a field-goal drive, but Florida State quickly struck back when Whitfield darted up the left sideline for a 100-yard kickoff return with 4:31 remaining.
It was Auburn’s turn. The Tigers went 75 yards in a flash, with Mason, the hard-nosed Heisman finalist, covering the final 37 by running over a couple of Florida State defenders. Auburn went back ahead 31-27 with 1:19 remaining.
Now came Winston’s moment. He had struggled for most of the game, but Florida State needed him to play like a Heisman Trophy winner. Winston connected with Rashad Greene on a quick hit that went 49 yards to the Auburn 28.
Florida State worked its way to the 2, aided by a pass-interference penalty in the end zone. With 13 seconds remaining, Winston took the snap, and after a play fake, found Benjamin guarded tightly by Chris Davis in the end zone. Benjamin won the battle, and Florida State won the game.
“My teammates had my back,” Winston said.
Until the final few minutes, Auburn’s defense had been the game’s biggest development. The Tigers entered the game ranked 87th in average yards allowed. Throughout the season they surrendered yards in chunks until opponents reached the red zone, where they often settled for field goals.
Surely, Florida State, which entered the game with the nation’s most productive offense, would break through.
It didn’t happen, at least early on.
“We affected them early and often,” said Auburn defensive end Dee Ford, who recorded two sacks.
But Florida State, trailing 21-10 at halftime, scored the first 10 points of the second half and started to regain confidence.
The game reached the 5-minute mark and it was anybody’s game.
In the end, it belonged to Florida State. Domination had defeated destiny.