The thing Florida State did wrong on their first potential game-winning touchdown in Monday’s national title game? They didn’t let Jameis Winston work his magic.
The Heisman winner struggled all game until it mattered most, driving the Seminoles 80 yards down the field in a breathtaking 66 seconds with a 6-for-7 passing performance, culminating with a 5-yard touchdown pass to Kelvin Benjamin to take the 34-31 lead. That turned out to be the final score.
The Seminoles broke Oklahoma’s FBS scoring record on that final scoring play as well, finishing the season with 723 points, surpassing the Sooners’ 716.
Florida State took the lead on their first drive of the game, as Jameis Winston completed three passes en route to Roberto Aguayo’s 35-yard field goal. After the two teams traded punts (including a rare Seminole three-and-out from the goal line), Auburn went to work.
The Tigers started with the ball on the Seminoles’ 25-yard-line, and Nick Marshall found C.J. Uzomah for a crucial first down. Three plays later, Nick Marshall hit Heisman finalist Tre Mason for the 12-yard touchdown, making the score 7-3. It was the first time Florida State trailed since September 28, when they were down 3-0 to Boston College in the first quarter.
Auburn struck again on their first drive of the second quarter. Tre Mason opened the possession with his 23-yard run, and Florida State was called for unsportsmanlike conduct on the next play, which was a rush for a loss. On the ensuing play, Marshall found Melvin Ray wide open over the middle for the 50-yard touchdown, making the score 14-3.
After another Florida State three-and-out, Auburn drove down the field before Cody Parkey’s missed 33-yard field goal attempt. On the next Seminole drive, Jameis Winston fumbled, giving the ball away. The Tigers capitalized, capping off their next drive with Marshall’s four-yard run to make it 21-3.
Florida State finally woke up on the next drive, with a sense of urgency as the half drew to a close and a blowout loss approaching as a possibility. Karlos Williams rattled off a group of strong runs, and Winston found Rashad Greene for a 12-yard gain near the red zone. On third-and-seven, Winston escaped the pocket and ran down the left sideline for 21 yards before being knocked out of bounds at the three. On the next play, Devonta Freeman burst through for the touchdown to make it 21-10.
The Seminoles struck first in the second half as well, taking the ball from their own nine down the field (helped by Winston’s 24-yard completion to Kelvin Benjamin) and leading to Aguayo’s 41-yard field goal. Those ended up being the only points of the third quarter, as the Tigers entered the final period with a 21-13 lead.
Early in the fourth quarter, Marshall finally made a mistake, lofting the ball to the right side. P.J. Williams leaped for the great interception, swinging momentum back in favor of the Seminoles. Winston and Devonta Freeman moved down the field with ease, and the quarterback (finally with time in the pocket) found Chad Abram for the 11-yard score. Unsportsmanlike conduct was called, preventing Florida State from going for the game-tying two-point conversion, and Aguayo hit the long extra point attempt to make it 21-20.
Auburn burned clock and moved down the field on their next drive, with Tre Mason moving over the 125-yard mark on the game. The 13-play drive took off more than six minutes of game time, ending in Parkey’s 22-yard field goal and a 24-20 Tiger lead with less than five minutes to play.
Jameis Winston didn’t even get a chance. On the kickoff, Levonte Whitfield shot straight out of a cannon, dashing 100 yards straight to the end zone, giving Florida State their first lead since 3-0 in the first quarter, and Auburn the ball back, suddenly down three points.
With more than four minutes left on the clock, Auburn went right to work, unafraid to continue running the ball. Marshall found Coates for an incredible 15-yard completion on third-and-11 to extend the drive, and found Coates again for 17 yards to establish position in Seminole territory. Two plays later, Mason burst up the middle, barreling through defenders en route to the 37-yard touchdown.
Florida State got the ball back with more than a minute to play, and quickly moved down the field thanks to a huge completion from Winston to Rashad Greene — to the tune of 49 yards. The Seminoles found themselves on the Auburn 10-yard-line, with 20 seconds left to play and a touchdown necessary to win it all. Winston threw the ball over the middle to Greene, and Chris Davis was called for pass interference, giving the Seminoles the first down. On the next play, Winston found Benjamin in the end zone, taking the lead with 17 seconds left to play.