Auburn had it. Auburn had FSU on the ropes early. Auburn scored late to take a four-point lead. But in the end, Florida State was able to make a few more plays and win the national championship, 34-31, Monday night at the Rose Bowl.
Tre Mason scored what could have been the winning touchdown with 1:19 remaining, picking up his 195th yard of the game and 1,816th of the year, breaking Bo Jackson's single-season rushing record. However, the Tigers' defense, which played its best game of the year, couldn't hold. Jameis Winston led his team down the field, thanks in large part to a healthy dose of yards after catch, and threw the winning touchdown pass to Kelvin Benjamin with 13 seconds remaining. There were no miracles or luck or #GodThings or whatever left for Auburn, and that was it.
In a season that saw so much good fortune go the way of Gus Malzahn's team, Florida State caught the breaks Monday night. Cody Parkey missed an early chip-shot field goal, which would have turned FSU's game-winning TD into a game-tying TD. The Seminoles' Levonte Whitfield returned a kickoff for a touchdown with 4:31 left in the game, giving his team its first lead since the 3:07 mark of the third quarter. Nick Marshall had Ricardo Louis wide open for a score on the first drive of the game, but the ball was underthrown, and Louis couldn't come up with a catch.
Florida State deserves a ton of credit. When it was 21-3 with 5:01 on the second-quarter clock, Winston looked rattled, as did his teammates. The Tigers' offense was rolling, and the defense was totally outplaying the Seminoles' offense. Winston didn't have a great game, but he didn't crumble under the pressure and give it away. He and his teammates, who as of yet had not faced adversity or been forced to play for the win in the fourth quarter, came through in the clutch.
It's an incredibly disappointing end to the season. When you're this close to a championship and you come up short, you can't help but feel that it's a missed opportunity. And it was. But that doesn't change the fact that Gus Malzahn, Nick Marshall, Tre Mason, Ricardo Louis, Chris Davis, Jay Prosch, Dee Ford, Sammie Coates, and so on and so on transformed Auburn from 3-9 to the SEC champions. And the Tigers aren't going anywhere. This team will continue to compete for championships under Malzahn, and it won't always come up empty. The future is bright.
War Eagle, y'all. Life is pain right now, but it's great to be an Auburn Tiger.