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Winston wills Florida State to BCS national championship

PASADENA, Calif. -- For his 20th birthday, Jameis Winston got a national championship.

The Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback blew out the candles with a game-winning drive. He hit wide receiverKelvin Benjamin for a 2-yard touchdown with 13 seconds left, lifting No. 1 Florida State to a 34-31 victory over No. 2 Auburn in a wild finish to the BCS National Championship Game on Monday at the Rose Bowl.

"I'm just so excited for our guys, man," said Winston, a redshirt freshman who became the third Heisman-winning quarterback to capture a BCS national title in the same season, joining USC's Matt Leinart and Auburn'sCam Newton. Winston also was voted the game's Offensive MVP.

"It's not really about me. It's about them. All I can say now is that we're champions. That's what matters to me. My birthday? I could care less about that."

Florida State, which trailed 21-3 late in the second quarter, completed the largest comeback for a win in a BCS title game. The BCS system will be scrapped next season, when a four-team playoff will begin to determine college football's champion.

Winston's game-winning pass capped an 80-yard drive in seven plays after the Tigers took the lead.

"It's the best football game he's played all year," said Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher, who won his first national title. "And I'll tell you why. Because for three quarters, he was up and down, (but) he fought. Anybody can do it with their 'A' game. A lot of guys can do that. Very few can do it when it's not their night.

"And to pull it out in the atmosphere and environment and with what was on the line tonight, to me, if that's not a great player, I don't know what is."

Auburn running back Tre Mason's 37-yard touchdown run with 1:19 remaining gave the Tigers a 31-27 lead, butWinston and the unbeaten Seminoles (14-0) wouldn't be denied.

"First of all, I'm very proud of my team, proud of these guys beside me, how far they've come from the very first game to getting here, and just being on the brink of winning the whole thing," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. "At the same time, we've got a lot of competitors in our locker room. They're disappointed. It went back and forth. A lot of little plays swung, but you've got to give (the Seminoles) credit. They drove the field and they scored towards the end and found a way to win."

The big play of the decisive drive came when Winston completed a 49-yard pass to wide receiver Rashad Greene, moving the ball to the Auburn 23. The Seminoles also got a pass-interference penalty against Auburn cornerback Chris Davis, giving them a first-and-goal at the Tigers 2-yard line. Winston connected with Benjamin on the next play.

The Tigers (12-2) were shooting for their second national title in four years. Auburn's loss also snapped the Southeastern Conference's string of seven consecutive national titles.

Levonte Whitfield's 100-yard kickoff return gave Florida State a 27-24 lead with 4:31 left. The play occurred right after Auburn took a 24-20 lead on a 22-yard field goal by Cody Parkey with 4:42 remaining.

Whitfield caught the ball about a yard deep into the end zone, darted up the left side and scored, giving FloridaState its first lead since the first quarter.

Mason, who finished with 195 yards on 34 carries, became Auburn's single-season rushing record holder. The junior finished with 1,816 rushing yards, breaking Bo Jackson's mark of 1,786 yards.

"Emotions are everywhere right now," Mason said when asked if he would make himself available for the NFL Draft. "That's not really what's going through my head right now. I just feel like I let the whole Auburn family down by not finishing. That decision will probably come later on, but right now I'm not thinking about that."

An interception by Auburn sophomore defensive back P.J. Williams, the Defensive MVP, at the Florida State 40 led to the Seminoles pulling within one of the Tigers early in the fourth quarter. Winston connected with fullbackChad Abram for an 11-yard scoring pass with 10:55 remaining, cutting Auburn's lead to 21-20.

Greene made nine receptions for 147 yards. Winston wound up 20-for-35 for 237 yards and two touchdowns.

Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall completed 14 of 27 passes for 230 yards and two touchdowns with one interception.

The Tigers allowed a 41-yard field goal by Florida State kicker Roberto Aguayo with 6:06 remaining in the third quarter, but Auburn still held a 21-13 lead heading into the fourth.

Marshall threw for two first-half touchdowns and ran for another.

Auburn jumped ahead 21-3 before Winston led the Seminoles on a 66-yard touchdown drive that ended less than two minutes before halftime.

Florida State got a 35-yard field goal by Aguayo on its first drive, but Auburn dominated the rest of the half.

After pinning the Seminoles at their own 2 and forcing a punt, the Tigers got possession at the Florida State 25 after Chris Davis returned Cason Beatty's kick 22 yards.

Six plays later, Mason caught a short pass from Marshall and strolled 12 yards into the end zone for a 7-3 Auburn lead with 3:07 left in the quarter.

The Tigers struck again as Marshall found wide receiver Melvin Ray for a 50-yard touchdown pass and a 14-3 lead at 13:48 of the second quarter.

A fumble by Winston, forced by defensive tackle Angelo Blackson and recovered by linebacker Anthony Swain at the Seminoles' 27, led to Auburn's next score. Marshall outran the Seminoles to the corner of the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown run for a 21-3 advantage with 5:01 remaining in the second.

Florida State, buoyed by running back Karlos Williams gaining 7 yards to convert a fake punt on fourth-and-4, marched 11 plays for a touchdown. Running back Devonta Freeman (11 carries, 73 yards) scored on a 3-yard run to cut the deficit to 21-10 with 1:28 remaining in the half.

The Tigers harassed Winston into completing just six of 15 passes for 62 yards in the first half. Forty-three of the yards came on the first drive.

Marshall went 7-for-13 for 113 yards before halftime. Mason rushed for 96 first-half yards on 18 carries.

Overall, Auburn finished with a 462-385 edge in total yardage, but it wasn't enough.

NOTES: Auburn leads the series 13-5-1, but Florida State won four of the past five meetings. ... Florida State became the first team to win the BCS National Championship Game after trailing at halftime. The winning team led at halftime in 14 of the 15 previous title games. The lone exception before Monday was 2009, when Floridaand Oklahoma were tied at intermission. ... The game marked the 54th clash between No. 1 and No. 2 teams, with No. 1 teams owning a 30-21-3 mark. In BCS matchups featuring the top two teams, it's an 8-8 tie. ... The game drew a crowd of 94,208.

Chris Aarhus
Aarhus has been a sportswriter for the Jamestown Sun since May of 2012. Prior to that, he was the sports editor at the Minot Daily News and The Daily Republic in Mitchell, S.D. He also worked as a sports writer at The Dickinson Press. He was honored as North Dakota's Sportswriter of the Year for 2014.
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