PASADENA, CALIFORNIA — The top-ranked Florida State Seminoles came from behind to win college football's national championship 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 halftime before capping a stunning comeback with a two-yard touchdown by wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin with only 13 seconds remaining.
There were three changes of lead in the dizzying final four-and-a-half minutes, each one appearing to be the decisive score in an epic finale to the BCS National Championship.
Florida State, racking up a perfect 13-0 record 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.
However, Florida State countered once more, as Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston found Benjamin in the end zone for his decisive touchdown after a seven-play drive covering 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 celebrated a BCS victory. The team won the title in the 1999-2000 season.
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'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.
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 colors of garnet and gold, had trailed in a game since Sept. 28, when the team fell behind at Boston College before pulling out 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 scored from three yards out, bring the score to 21-10 at halftime.
A 41-yard field goal by Aguayo trimmed Auburn's lead to 21-13 late in the third quarter. The Seminoles then came within one as Winston picked out fullback Chad Abram for an 11-yard touchdown to make it 21-20 with 10:55 remaining in the game.
A Parkey field goal from 22 yards put Auburn ahead 24-20 with just 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.