PASADENA, Calif. — Tre Mason and Auburn's season of miracles were no match for No. 1 Florida State and its night of magic.
The Seminoles scored twice in the final 4:31 to pull off the largest comeback in BCS championship game history, rallying from 18 down Monday to earn a 34-31 win over No. 2 Auburn at the Rose Bowl.
"That's a storybook moment right there …" said FSU quarterback Jameis Winston, the game's offensive MVP whose 2-yard touchdown pass to Kelvin Benjamin with 13 seconds left was the game winner.
The victory completed an undefeated season for the Seminoles (14-0) and sealed the program's third national championship, its first since 1999.
It also dashed the hopes Auburn (12-2) had for completing the biggest turnaround in college football history and snapped the SEC's streak of seven consecutive titles. While the Tigers had been tested again and again, with miraculous wins over Georgia and Alabama, FSU had won only one game by fewer than 20 points. It was unclear how the Seminoles would handle a close game.
The early answers were not positive for FSU in front of a crowd of 94,208 spectators.
Auburn took advantage of a short field 12 minutes into the first quarter, when quarterback Nick Marshall hit Mason on a screen that the Heisman Trophy finalist took 12 yards for a score. The Tigers' 7-3 lead was the first deficit FSU had faced in its past 10 games.
It got worse for the 'Noles from there. Auburn needed only three plays on its next drive to reach the end zone, on a 50-yard bomb from Marshall to Melvin Ray. Another short field set up Mason's 4-yard touchdown run — the first rushing TD allowed by FSU's starters all season — and gave Auburn a 21-3 lead with 5:01 left in the half.
"Nobody ever stopped believing in each other," said FSU running back James Wilder Jr., a Plant High alum.
Even when their Heisman winner struggled. Winston stumbled early against the nation's No. 102 passing defense. In one first-half stretch, the redshirt freshman missed on seven of his eight passes, was sacked twice and fumbled to set up Mason's rush.
FSU's fortunes finally started to turn with a fake punt late in the second quarter.
"I knew with five minutes to go if they got it back and scored, the game could be over right before the half …" Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher said. "We weren't here just to show up and play well."
Speedster Karlos Williams took the fake punt at his own 40 and raced 7 yards on fourth and 4. Seven plays later, Devonta Freeman plowed for a 3-yard touchdown run that trimmed the deficit to 21-10.
FSU's defense held in the third quarter, and a 41-yard field goal by Roberto Aguayo put the Seminoles down 21-13. Defensive MVP P.J. Williams skied to pick off Marshall two minutes into the fourth quarter, giving the Seminoles the ball near midfield.
"We're fighters," FSU defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan said. "The Seminoles are fighters."
The 'Noles responded with a five-play, 56-yard drive, capped by Winston's 11-yard touchdown pass to Chad Abram. That cut Auburn's lead to 21-20 and set up one of the wildest finishes in national championship history, in the final game of the BCS era.
After Auburn's Cody Parkey booted a 22-yard field goal, Kermit Whitfield — FSU's blazing freshman and one of the country's fastest players — returned the ensuing kickoff 100 yards to give the 'Noles their first lead of the game, 27-24.
"When I run as fast as I could, no one can catch me," Whitfield said.
Mason had an answer. He sped up the middle and bowled over a defender on his way to his second touchdown of the night to put the Tigers back ahead, 31-27. He finished with 195 yards on 34 carries.
"Once they left 1:19 with our offense, I knew we had a shot," said Freeman, who finished with 73 yards to became the first Seminole since 1996 to rush for 1,000 yards in a season.
That's because Winston had one final jolt of magic.
Winston completed 6 of 7 passes on the final 80-yard drive to become the 14th player in college football history to win the Heisman and a national title in the same season — and he did it on his 20th birthday, no less. His 2-yard lob to Benjamin with 13 seconds left completed the comeback that put FSU atop the college football world once again.
"Only thing is we're victorious and glad to say Florida State is the national champion again," said Winston, who finished 20-of-35 passing for 237 yards and two scores. "And I guarantee you we're bringing that swag back. You'd better believe it."
Times staff writer Matt Baker can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @MattHomeTeam.