Monday, June 25, 2018
Colleges

At its lowest point, FSU is at its best

PASADENA, Calif.

So who is in charge of miracles now?

Levonte Whitfield?

Jameis Winston?

Kelvin Benjamin?

The FSU Seminoles, on the verge of giving away the national championship for most of the evening, came from behind twice in the final five minutes to pull it out Monday night. When it counted the most, the Seminoles were at their best, and because of it, they wound up hoisting the trophy late in the evening.

This was amazing. For most of the night, the plucky Tigers had outplayed FSU. They looked more focused, hungrier, and because of it, they built a 21-3 lead.

By comparison, FSU looked frenetic for most of the first half, as if it were trying to score 14 on every possession. Winston, the Heisman Trophy winner, looked as shaky as he has all season.

There for a while, you wondered if the Seminoles were paying for their dominance this season. Finally, they were in a ballgame, and for the life of them, they didn't know how to act. If only Clemson had been tougher. If only Florida had been more of a test. Or Miami. Or Duke. Or anyone.

For most of the night, Auburn had taken the fight to the Seminoles, and for much of it, it seemed as if that was going to cost FSU the big trophy.

And, oh, this one would have stung. Sure, FSU has lost championship games before. But when it lost to Tennessee in '08, it was because it was playing a backup quarterback. When it lost to Florida in '96, it was because there was too much Danny Wuerffel. When it lost to Oklahoma in '01, well, Miami should have been asked to play instead anyway.

But this time?

This would have been a loss that would have stung for a long time. FSU was by far the more talented team. But for most of the night, the Seminoles were on their heels, bruised and bleeding, letting one slip away. They seemed intent on finishing a perfect season in a perfectly awful manner.

And then they woke up.

It started with Whitfield's 100-yard kickoff return which took about as long as your next heartbeat. Whitfield is very small, and very fast, and with 4:31 to play, he was very gone. He was a blur going down the sideline, and by the time he was done, FSU had its first lead.

And that didn't hold up, either.

Winning games late is Auburn's thing, remember. And the Tigers methodically drove down the field, retaking the lead on Tre Mason's 37-yard run with 1:19 to play. And once again, it looked as if FSU was going to have some explaining to do.

But then Winston came to life, too.

He had had a perfectly dreadful night, if you want to know the truth. There has been no time all season when Winston looked more like a freshman. After three quarters, he had completed only 11 of 24 passes, and he had been sacked four times, and he had fumbled. For crying out loud, Auburn had come into the game with the 89th-ranked defense and the 104th-ranked pass defense. And Winston could not throw a paper cup into a garbage dump.

In the final minute, however, Winston was once again the Heisman winner. He was alive, seeing, reading, throwing. He hit Rashad Greene with a 49-yard completion. He hit Devonta Freeman for 6, and Kenny Shaw for 5, and Freeman for 7 and, finally, Benjamin for 2 yards and the winning score.

That drive, too, will be remembered for some time. It was a matter of FSU finally standing up, finally refusing to let the night go the wrong way. In the end, they were champions.

Give credit to coach Jimbo Fisher for this one. He gathered his team when everything was going wrong. He convinced it that the game was still winnable. Fisher has come a long way as a coach. He has learned to trust those around him. And as a result, he has become a top 10 coach in the country (and maybe top five).

So where does this leave this program? Don't fool yourself. There will be a lot of underclassmen who declare for the NFL draft. There is recruiting to do.

But Fisher talks about building a program, not a team. The Seminoles will reload. They'll be back soon.

Next time, maybe they won't test your heart on their way to victory.

Wild ride

After trailing by 18 in the second quarter, Florida State staged the biggest comeback in the history of the BCS championship game Monday night, in a game that saw four scores in the final 4:42 and three lead changes in the final 4:31:

4:42 left: Cody Parkey, 22-yard field goal. Key play: The Seminoles came up with a stop on third down after Auburn reached the FSU 6-yard line. Auburn up 24-20.

4:31 left: Levonte Whitfield, 100-yard kickoff return. Key: Florida State took its first lead of the night, Whitfield's second scoring return of the season. FSU up 27-24.

1:19 left: Tre Mason, 37-yard rushing touchdown. Key play: Mason broke through the tackle of FSU defensive back Jalen Ramsey. Auburn up 31-27.

:13 left: Kelvin Benjamin, 2-yard touchdown pass from Jameis Winston. Key play: Winston 49-yard pass to Rashad Greene on the second play of the drive; Green broke through two defenders who collided while trying to tackle him just after the catch. FSU up 34-31.

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