Auburn wins national title in wild finish
One of the most anticipated matchups in BCS title game history had become a defensive dud, filled with strange plays and two prolific offenses gone dormant.
An implausible closing sequence - and an optical illusion - made it one to remember.
Waved on by teammate Darvin Adams after landing on an Oregon defender but failing to go down, Auburn freshman Michael Dyer turned a short gain into a game-changing 37-yard scramble. The top-ranked Tigers eventually kicked the winning field in a 22-19 win over Oregon on Monday night for their first national championship since the 1957 season.
''He kept saying, 'Go! Go! I got the block for you,''' Dyer said. ''We were just trying to keep the play going and get some more yards.''
They did much more than that. Dyer's did-that-just-happen ride provided a huge jolt to a game that never quite reached its billing as an offensive showcase.
Instead, a kicker scored a 2-point conversion on an option. There was a safety, a fake punt and, at one point, Oregon led by the unseemly score of 11-9.
Ducks quarterback Darron Thomas and Auburn's Heisman Trophy winner, Cam Newton, combined for three interceptions in the first quarter after having 13 between them during the regular season.
It was scoreless after the first quarter and Auburn (14-0) had just 21 total yards, including minus-13 on four carries by Newton. The teams perked up in the second quarter, combining for 27 points, then managed just an Auburn field goal until well into the fourth.
The final 4:50 turned it into a game to remember.
Auburn led 19-11 when the savory sequence started. Casey Matthews sprinted from behind and stripped Newton. The Oregon linebacker with the NFL lineage raced about 20 yards around the corner, dived and knocked the ball away, and teammate Cliff Harris recovered at Oregon's 45.
The Ducks worked the ball down to the 2. Stuffed in a similar situation late in the third quarter, they scored this time on a 2-yard shovel pass from Thomas to LaMichael James. Oregon came through on the 2-point conversion when Thomas bobbled the snap, rolled right and threw left off his back foot to Jeff Maehl for a leaping grab in the back of the end zone.
The game tied 19-all, Oregon (12-1) had the momentum and the chance at its first national title.
''It looked like overtime was in the future,'' Maehl said.
The Ducks just left too much time for Auburn.
Taking over at their 25 with 2:27 left, the Tigers were on their 40 when Dyer took a handoff right and appeared to be down on a 6-yard gain after landing on top of Oregon's Eddie Pleasant.
Dyer never hit the ground - at least the right parts of him didn't.
With his knee off the ground by inches and his hand planted instead of his forearm, the officials never blew the whistle. Dyer leaped up and, after hesitating while everyone tried to figure out what happened, raced up the sideline for 32 more yards before really being tackled.
After a long review, the officials ruled Dyer had indeed stayed off the ground on that wild ride, giving Auburn the ball at Oregon's 23 with 1:39 left.
''It's not like he broke free and did some spectacular things - he was tackled,'' Pleasant said. ''Everybody on the side of the defense stopped. He stopped and the coach told him to keep running and he ran. It's not like it was a blown assignment. It's not like he busted a 50-yard run down the middle. It was just a crazy play.''
Pleasant made one more play, this time getting a favorable ruling on a video review after he tackled Dyer at the end of a run that was initially ruled a touchdown.
Even after Newton was dropped for a loss, the Tigers had a timeout left and sent out Wes Byrum for a 19-yard field goal attempt. The senior with the history of game-winners hit the biggest of his career at the buzzer, sending the Tigers rushing onto to the field to celebrate a wild national title victory.
''I kind of thought I was down for a second, but there was no whistle blown so I just kept my feet moving and kept going,'' Dyer said.
Right into history.