Auburn edges Oregon for national title

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McClatchy Tribune
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
— Auburn’s 53-year wait is finally over.

The Tigers ended a half century national championship drought Monday night, ironically enough in the desert, when place-kicker Wes Byrum split the uprights with an 19-yard field goal as time expired, lifting Auburn to a 22-19 win against Oregon before 78,603 at University of Phoenix Stadium.

It gave Auburn its first national championship since 1957 and capped a remarkable turnaround under coach Gene Chizik, who took a downtrodden team that went 5-7 in Tommy Tuberville’s final season to the top of the college football world in two short years.

“Fifth-three years, baby! This is for you,” Chizik shouted to fans afterward. “War Eagle!”

“Anything is possible,” said Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Cam Newton, who finished with 265 passing yards and 64 rushing. “I guarantee that nobody five or six months ago nobody would have would say that Auburn University is going to win the national championship. Now, on Jan. 10, 2011, we can say we did it.”

It took all 60 minutes. After Oregon tied the game at 19 with 2:23 left on a touchdown run by LaMichael James and two-point conversion, the Tigers went on a 73-yard drive that ended with them hoisting

the crystal trophy.

Newton, who uncharacteristically lost a fumble that set up the Ducks’ game-tying score only minute earlier, started it with a 15-yard pass to Emory Blake.

The next play, freshman running back Mike Dyer busted loose for a 37-yard run to the Oregon 23, keeping his knee off the ground by resting on an Oregon defender not far from the line of scrimmage before breaking for more yardage, a play upheld by replay.

Dyer, who ran for 144 yards to earn MVP honors despite not playing in the first quarter for unspecified reasons, nearly put a touchdown capper on the game, busting free for a 17-yard run that ended up with him in the end zone with only 10 seconds remaining.

Replay showed that he was down at the 1. After a kneel down took the clock down to two seconds, on came Byrum, who famously did the Gator chomp after a game-winning kick at Florida as a freshman

He has an ever better tale to tell now, sending his kick through the uprights before Auburn’s players poured onto the field as orange and blue confetti rained from the ceiling. It was the sixth game-winning kick of Byrum’s career.

It was clear from the start Monday that the expected shootout—appropriate given the desert setting—wasn’t going to materialize.

Both teams looked out of sorts in a scoreless first quarter, no doubt affected by the 37-day layoff. Auburn had only 21 yards of offense. Oregon’s Darron Thomas threw two interceptions.

Both teams got it going, though. Oregon scored first on a 26-yard field goal by Rob Beard before Newton threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to Kodi Burns to make it 7-3.

After an 81-yard reception by Jeff Maehl, running back James scored on an 8-yard throwback screen for a score. Oregon faked the extra point, pitching it to the kicker, Beard, to convert, making it 11-7.

Auburn answered with a 16-play drive on its next possession but didn’t get any points.

after Newton short-armed an easy touchdown pass to Eric Smith in the end zone on fourth-and-goal. The Tigers still capitalized, however, when defensive tackle Mike Blanc stopped James for a safety on the Ducks’ first play, trimming the lead to 11-9.

After the free kick, Newton led the Tigers down the field again, sidestepping a blitz to hit Emory Blake for a 30-yard touchdown up the sideline to give Auburn a 16-11 lead going into the break.

Defense ruled the second half. The only scoring in the third quarter was a 28-yard field goal by Byrum that made it 19-11.

The Tigers shut down the Ducks’ vaunted rushing attack, applying pressure on the interior line to stuff Thomas and James in the backfield before they could get going. Oregon, which averaged over 300 rushing yards per game, finished with 75 yards on the ground Monday.

“I cannot be more proud of our defense,” Chizik said. “For one month our defense was bound and determined to show up here tonight and and play the best game of their life.”

Oregon looked left for dead with 5:05 left in the game, trailing by eight and having just punted the ball away. But Ducks linebacker Casey Matthews popped Newton on a running play, jarring the ball loose as teammate Cliff Harris fell on the loose ball at the Auburn 40. It was Newton’s first lost fumble all season.

Oregon didn’t waste the opportunity, despite a personal foul penalty that backed it up 15 yards. The Ducks marched 55 yards in eight plays before James scored on a 2-yard run to trim Auburn’s lead to 19-17 with 2:33 left.

Thomas corralled a bad snap, rolled right, then threw across his body to Maehl for the two-point conversion attempt to tie the game at 19, setting up the dramatic finish.

Last updated: 4:07 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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