Auburn defeats Oregon, 22-19, to win BCS national championship game

Reporting from Glendale, Ariz.

Dramatic comebacks were Auburn’s calling card this season.

The Tigers overcame double-digit deficits four times as they won the Southeastern Conference title.

But Auburn saved its best for last.


Facing possible overtime against second-ranked Oregon, the top-ranked Tigers drove down the field and Wes Byrum kicked a game-winning field goal as time expired for a 22-19 victory in the Bowl Championship Series national championship game Monday night at University of Phoenix Stadium.

The victory capped a perfect 14-0 season and gave the Tigers their first national title since 1957.

“Fifty-three years, baby,” Auburn Coach Gene Chizik said the crowd. “This one’s for you.”

A record crowd of 78,603 had expected to see two of the nation’s most potent, fast-paced offenses in a track meet.

And why not?

Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Cam Newton was on the field. So was Oregon running back LaMichael James, the nation’s leading rusher for college football’s top-scoring team.

But defense carried the night.

That was fine with Newton, who completed 20 of 34 passes for 265 yards and two touchdowns with one interception.

Newton’s season was mired in controversy, the NCAA continuing an investigation that has already determined that his father, Cecil, broke rules by taking part in a pay-for-play scheme when he shopped his son to Mississippi State.

“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,” Newton said. “And now ... we’re smiling right now.”

Auburn tackle Nick Fairley led a defensive unit that forced three turnovers and waged a goal-line stand in the third quarter to turn back the Ducks.

Still, an Oregon team that had never trailed going into the fourth quarter showed it could come back.

Auburn led 16-11 at halftime and 19-11 late in the fourth quarter, looking fully capable of running out the clock.

But Oregon linebacker Casey Matthews gave the Ducks life when he punched the ball out Newton’s hand after a short gain for a fumble that was recovered by cornerback Cliff Harris with 4:54 left in the game.

Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas took over, saving a drive by completing a 29-yard pass on fourth and five and later tossing a two-yard shovel pass to running back LaMichael James for a touchdown.

Thomas’ two-point conversion pass to Jeff Maehl tied the score and set the stage for Auburn’s final drive.

Starting at its own 25, Auburn put the ball in the hands of running back Michael Dyer.

On second down, the freshman took a handoff and broke through into the Oregon secondary. Ducks rover Eddie Pleasant appeared to wrap up Dyer, but the Dyer’s knee did not hit the ground and he kept running for a 37-yard gain to Oregon’s 23.

“I was trying to make a play and keep my feet moving,” said Dyer, who rushed for 143 yards in 22 carries.

Dyer nearly scored on a 16-yard run a few plays later, but officials ruled that he was down at the one. Two plays later, Byrum split the uprights to give the Tigers the title.

“I’m not sure 15 weeks ago anyone believed we could do this except us,” Chizik said.