|Florida Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston (C) kisses the championship trophy next to head coach Jimbo Fisher (L) after they defeated the Auburn Tigers to win the BCS Championship. Photo by Mike Blake, Reuters.
PASADENA, California - The top-ranked Florida State Seminoles came from behind to win college football's national championship for the first time with a wild 34-31 victory over No. 2 Auburn in the title game on Monday.
The Seminoles were outplayed by the Tigers early on and trailed 21-10 at half-time before capping a stunning fightback with a two-yard touchdown by wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin with only 13 seconds remaining.
There were three changes of lead in the dizzying last four-and-a-half minutes, each one appearing to be the decisive score in an epic finale to the BCS National Championship, one of the showpiece events in U.S. sport.
Florida State, a perfect 13-0 in the regular season, appeared to have the game won after wide receiver Kermit Whitfield surged down the left sideline for a 100-yard kick return, his touchdown putting his team ahead 27-24.
However, Auburn regained control with just 79 seconds remaining when running back Tre Mason rushed for a 37-yard touchdown and the Tigers defense initially held firm under intense pressure from the Seminoles.
Again, though, Florida State countered, Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston finding Benjamin in the end zone for his decisive touchdown after a seven-play drive over 80 yards.
Winston, who made a nightmarish start, was sacked four times while completing 20-of-35 passes for 237 yards and two touchdowns as the joyous Seminoles finally celebrated a BCS victory after losing to Oklahoma in the 2001 title game.
Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall completed 14-of-27 passes for 217 yards and two touchdowns, while running back Tre Mason had two scores in front of a sellout crowd of 94,208.
|Florida State Seminoles wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin (1) catches a touchdown pass over Auburn Tigers cornerback Chris Davis (11) during the second half of the 2014 BCS National Championship. Photo by Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY Sports/Reuters.
Florida State's first drive over nine plays, marshaled by quarterback Winston, resulted in a 35-yard field goal by Roberto Aguayo with 9.53 remaining in the first quarter.
However, Auburn hit back in impressive style when running back Mason powered across the goal line for a 12-yard touchdown, on a superb screen pass from Marshall, to end the quarter with a 7-3 lead.
It was the first time the Seminoles, wearing their traditional colours of garnet and gold, had trailed in a game since Sept. 28 at Boston College, where they went on seal a 48-34 victory.
Florida State's defense again crumbled early in the second quarter, their coverage nowhere to be seen as wide receiver Melvin Ray latched on to a precise pass from Marshall for a 50-yard touchdown.
Though Auburn's Cory Parkey narrowly missed a 33-yard field-goal, Marshall rushed for four yards to score a touchdown in the left corner of the end zone to put the Tigers ahead 21-3 with 5.01 left in the second quarter.
Florida State finally found a way past the Auburn defense, Winston rushing for 21 yards to give them ideal field position before running back Devonta Freeman burrowed over from three yards for a touchdown to trail 21-10 at the half.
A 41-yard field goal by Aguayo trimmed Auburn's lead to 21-13 late in the third and the Seminoles put the game on a knife edge when Winston picked out fullback Chad Abram for an 11-yard touchdown to make it 21-20 with 10:55 in the fourth.
A Parkey field goal from 22 yards put Auburn ahead 24-20 with 4.42 left on the clock, but Florida State then delivered what appeared to be their dagger blow with Whitfield's stunning 100-yard kick return to set up the heart-stopping finale.
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by John O'Brien)