Byrum’s FG gives Auburn national title
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Auburn running back Michael Dyer never heard any whistle, so he just kept running — past the tackler who thought he had him down and deep into Oregon territory.
Dyer broke stride, then took off on a once-in-a-lifetime run in the final minutes, setting up a short field goal on the last play that led No. 1 Auburn over the No. 2 Ducks 22-19 in the BCS championship game Monday night.
The freshman running back upstaged Auburn’s Heisman-winning quarterback Cam Newton with a 37-yard run, in which he appeared down but wasn’t — his knee never hit the ground — as he rolled over defender Eddie Pleasant to put the Tigers in scoring position.
Three plays later, Dyer ran 16 yards to push the ball to the 1 and set up Wes Byrum’s 19-yard field goal with no time left. It was his sixth career game-winning field goal — the one that capped off a perfect, 14-0 season, brought the title back to Auburn for the first time since 1957 and left the Southeastern Conference on top for the fifth straight year.
“Fifty-three years, baby,” coach Gene Chizik said to the cheering crowd. “This is for you. War Eagle!”
A classic sequence to close out a wild finish — five crazy minutes of football that made up for the first 55, which were more of a bruising battle than the offensive masterpiece everyone had predicted.
The craziness began when Casey Matthews, son of the 1980s NFL linebacker Clay, knocked the ball from Newton’s hands while he was trying to ice a 19-11 lead.
Oregon’s offense, shut down by Nick Fairley & Co. for most of the night, moved 45 yards over the next 2:17 and Darron Thomas threw a shovel pass to LaMichael James for a touchdown. Thomas hit Jeff Maehl for the tying 2-point conversion with 2:33 left and the game was down to one possession.
And that possession will be remembered for one incredible play.
Dyer, who chose jersey No. 5 because that’s how old his brother was when their father died in a car accident, took the handoff from Newton and ran off right tackle for what looked like a 6- or 7-yard gain. Nothing routine about this one, though. He never heard a whistle, wasn’t sure his knee hit the ground, so he popped up and kept going. Almost everyone on the field had stopped playing, but the referee never blew the play dead. Dyer made it to the Oregon 23. An official’s review ensued and the replay showed that, indeed, his knee had never touched the turf.
“I was going out there, trying to make a play. I just kept my feet moving,” he said.
In a statement released after the game, referee Bill LeMonnier said he was confident of the call: “The ruling on the field was there was nothing other than the foot that touched the ground,” he explained.
The freshman finished with 143 yards and was chosen Offensive Player of the Game — no small feat considering he had Newton playing well on the same offense.
Newton threw for 265 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 64 yards, most in short, punishing bites.
It was a good performance, but not spectacular — par for the course in a game that was projected as a possible 60-55 shootout by Steve Spurrier and a 74-point touchdown-fest by the oddsmakers who set the over-under.
Wearing white jerseys, green pants and DayGlo shoes and socks, the Ducks got only 49 yards rushing from James. An offense that had been held under 37 points only once all year managed just the two touchdowns. The last one came on a simple shovel pass from Thomas, who finished with 363 yards — 81 of which came on a long pass to Maehl that set up the first touchdown.
Oregon was held below 37 points for only the second time all season and the fast-paced offense that turned most opponents into mush in the second half had trouble wearing down Auburn.
Fairley, Auburn’s 298-pound defensive tackle, did the most damage. He lived up to his reputation as a game-changer for better, with three tackles for loss, including a sack — and for worse, when he got a 15-yard penalty for shoving James’ face into the turf after the whistle.
Newton was a game-changer as always, keeping Auburn ahead in this tight game, the final outing in a season shadowed by an NCAA investigation into his failed recruitment by Mississippi State. The governing body cleared him to play before the SEC championship but said his father, Cecil, solicited money from the Bulldogs.
Cecil, not in the stands Monday night, missed a heck of a finish.
And the end of a memorable season for Auburn, the school that has loads of tradition — the Tiger Walk, the War Eagle yell and a case full of Heisman and other big-time individual trophies — but not nearly as many titles to go with it. Bad luck in the polls doomed their one-loss season in 1983, probation kept them from capitalizing on a perfect record in 1993 and the vagaries of the BCS left them on the outside in 2004, maybe the most painful of all the snubs.
So, really, this one is for all the Bos and Beasleys and Terrys and Tracys in the Auburn family who came close but couldn’t close the deal. And it fashions a nice symmetry with that team up the road — Alabama — which took home the Heisman and the same crystal championship trophy one short year ago.
Tide fans, of course, will remind you that it still has five more AP titles than the Tigers. But this celebration is going on at Toomer’s Corner in Auburn, where the traditional toilet-papering of the area was going on in full force in the bitter cold as Monday night turned into Tuesday morning.
“Winning a championship for the Auburn family, I can’t really describe it right now,” Chizik said. “To try would probably cheapen it.”
At Auburn, the words “War Eagle” would almost surely suffice.
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