Wes Byrum’s 19-yard field goal on the last play of the game gave Auburn a 22-19 victory over Oregon on Monday night in the BCS National Championship game at University of Phoenix Stadium, putting the clincher on a 14-0 season that has been one wild, improbable ride for the Tigers.
All season, Auburn coach Gene Chizik ducked questions about the possibility of what finally happened Monday night, but in the end, there he was during the post-game trophy ceremony, holding up the crystal football, then passing it to defensive tackle Nick Fairley to kiss.
“We’re the best football team in the United States of America,” said Chizik.
There’s no disputing that now after No. 1 Auburn’s victory over the No. 2-ranked Ducks.
It gave Auburn its second national championship and the Tigers gave the Southeastern Conference a fifth-consecutive champion.
The game was supposed to be about two of the nation’s most high-powered offenses, with more than one prognosticator saying it would be won by whichever team had the ball last.
That much was true.
Trailing 19-11, Oregon scored the game-tying touchdown and two-point conversion with 2:33 to play.
Auburn’s game-winning drive started from its own 25. The Tigers only faced one third down on the drive, and freshman tailback Mike Dyer chose that particular moment to deliver one of the game’s biggest plays.
On third and four, Dyer slipped off the right side of the line and was pulled down by Oregon rover Eddie Pleasant.
However, Dyer came down on top of Pleasant, spun over him, and back on his feet without a knee touching the ground.
He was finally hauled down after picking up more than 30 yards.
“I had no idea if I was down or not,” said Dyer, who earned offensive MVP honors. “I knew the whistle wasn’t blowing, so I just kept my feet moving trying to make a play.”
On the next play, Dyar burst up the middle for what appeared to be a touchdown, but instant replay showed his knee touched inside the 1 yard line.
Auburn ran one play into the line before bringing on Byrum to kick the game-winner as time expired.
“It’s a great experience and a blessing to be a part of it,” Byrum said. “It’s a team thing. Everybody has been fighting hard all season. When the ball went through, I held up my arms, thanked God, and went to celebrate with my teammates.”
Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Cam Newton was relatively quiet from a statistical standpoint, but Auburn’s defense stepped up in a big way for the Tigers.
“This is just a great group of guys,” said Auburn offensive lineman Byron Isom. “You’ve got to have some type of team chemistry and the chemistry of this team is just unbelievable. We struggled, but we made plays when it counted. The defense really stepped up.”
Both defenses set the tone in the first half, and all the scoring came in the second quarter.
Newton completed touchdowns passes of 35 yards to Kodi Burns and 30 yards to Emory Blake.
The Tigers also had a 16-play drive that ended at the Oregon 1-yard line when Eric Smith couldn’t hold onto a Newton pass in the end zone on fourth down.
However, that did set up two points for the Tigers when Mike Blanc tackled LaMichael James in the end zone for a safety.
Newton and James, the two teams’ biggest stars, were relatively quiet. Newton rushed 22 times for 65 yards.
James managed just 49 yards on 13 carries for the Ducks, who were held to 81 yards rushing.
Oregon scored on a 26-yard field goal by Rob Beard and an 8-yard pass from Thomas to James, followed by a two-point conversion.
“Nobody likes losing,” said James. “There are going to be better days.”
Auburn’s better days are here, thanks to the drive that would give the Tigers their first national championship since 1957.
There have been close calls since Auburn’s unbeaten season of 1957. Auburn went unbeaten in 1993 but was ineligible for a bowl game and a shot at the national championship because of probation.
The Tigers also went unbeaten in 2004, but became the odd team out when the BCS formula decreed that Southern Cal and Oklahoma would play for the title.
Nothing could seemingly stop the Tigers this time.
There are those who will point to last year’s spring practice as the beginning point of the Tigers’ run to the championship.
In truth, it probably began in December of 2009 when Newton chose Auburn over Mississippi State.
“Anything is possible,” said Newton, who was late to the post-game interviews after being treated for a back injury. “I guarantee you five or six months ago nobody would have bet their last dollar to say that Auburn University is winning the national championship, and now on Jan. 10, 2011, we’re smiling right now.”