Tigers get paws on the title
Auburn wins 1st crown since 1957
GLENDALE, Ariz. — All season long, Auburn kept trying to prove it was the best college football team in the best conference. The Tigers heard the critics who questioned their credentials early in the season as they kept falling behind and scrambling at the end, winning each time.
They endured the scrutiny of quarterback Cam Newton winning the Heisman Trophy but being asked if rules had been broken during his recruitment by his father.
Through it all, the Tigers kept one goal in focus — winning their first national championship since 1957.
And last night at University of Phoenix Stadium in front of 78,603 fans, many of whom had paid thousands of dollars to see the Tigers complete their quest, Auburn closed the deal against Oregon, 22-19, on Wes Byrum’s 19-yard field goal with no time left.
When asked if it was “just another field goal,’’ Byrum, a 6-foot-2-inch 216-pound senior, smiled. “No, it was the biggest field goal I’ve ever made and I try not to think about that,’’ he said.
The victory gave Auburn (14-0) its first national championship in more than 50 years and continued an amazing run of five consecutive BCS national champions for the Southeastern Conference.
“We’re the best football team in the United States of America,’’ said Auburn coach Gene Chizik, who watched his team — which trailed in eight games this season — fight off a late Oregon comeback attempt.
For Oregon (12-1) and coach Chip Kelly, who had mesmerized college football this season with their warp-speed offense, it was the end of a mission improbable.
The Ducks, who had blown past everyone they played with their speed and passion, ran into a unit that was able to match them.
Trailing, 19-11 with 5:05 left and Auburn in control of the ball, the Ducks seemed destined to suffer their first loss without making a final statement.
But then Newton, who finished with 265 passing yards and 2 touchdowns (both in the first half), fumbled on Auburn’s 36. A personal foul pushed the Ducks back to their 45, but with 4:50 left, they had a chance.
Quarterback Darron Thomas quickly brought the Ducks inside the Auburn 5, then in two rapid plays, which epitomized Oregon’s season, Thomas did his best to make something happen. After a timeout, Kelly called for a shovel pass from Thomas to LaMichael James, which cut the led to 19-17. The Ducks then converted the 2-point conversion with a cross-the-end-zone pass from Thomas to Jeff Maehl.
Tie score, and anything seemed possible.
Now it was Newton’s turn with 2:27 left to become a hero one more time. Only running back Michael Dyer stepped into the spotlight when he bounced off a tackle by Oregon’s Eddie Pleasant and appeared to be down. He wasn’t, which a replay confirmed, and Dyer sprinted another 30 yards before being pulled down at the Oregon 23.
“I was trying to make a play and keep moving,’’ said Dyer, who was the game’s leading rusher with 143 yards, and went from his 45 to the Oregon 23 before being pulled down.
The Tigers then sealed the deal when Dyer broke through a hole up the middle and sprinted to the 1-yard line. The Tigers ran one play to kill some time, then with two seconds left, Byrum kicked the winnner to give the Tigers the national championship.
The ending was merely the cap of a game that lived up to its pregame billing as a meeting between the best teams in the BCS.
There was some sloppiness and tentative play, the byproduct of a five-week layoff between games.
After a scoreless first quarter, the teams jousted for a half, with Auburn taking a 16-11 lead. The second half, until the final dramatic moments, became a game of defensive surges, with Auburn looking as if it were heading to a comfortable victory.
But then Newton fumbled and Oregon was back in the game.
“It’s been an unbelievable journey and they should be proud of their accomplishments,’’ said Kelly, who has leap-frogged from offensive coordinator at New Hampshire to an offensive whiz kid as a head coach who has a Rose Bowl and a BCS title game appearance in his two-year tenure at Oregon.
The Ducks had no reason to bow their heads.
“It was a battle, you know,’’ said Oregon safety Cliff Harris, who picked off one Newton pass and recovered Newton’s fourth-quarter fumble. “I hope you all enjoyed the show we put on for you guys.’’
The ultimate show was put on by the Auburn Tigers, with the reverberations felt all the way to Toomer’s Cormer in Auburn, Ala.
Earlier in the day, snow fell on Toomer’s Corner, a historic location that is one of the oldest traditions of the Auburn Tigers. Last night, the snow was replaced by a blizzard of tissue covering the trees and everything else in celebration for War Eagle fans who had waited generations to say, “We’re No. 1.’’