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Auburn beats Oregon in a game of one-upmanship for the BCS championship

CHRIS DUFRESNE / ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Wes Byrum's 19-yard field goal as time expires gives Tigers a thrilling 22-19 victory and their first national title since 1957. The winning kick is set up by a 37-yard run by Michael Dyer, who appears to be tackled but is able to keep going because his knee never touches down.

January 10, 2011|Chris Dufresne
  • Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley celebrates after the Tigers defeated Oregon, 22-19, to win the BCS national championship game at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., on Monday night.
Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley celebrates after the Tigers defeated… (Christian Petersen / Getty…)

Reporting from Glendale, Ariz. — It was an old-fashioned championship game that featured solid defense, goal-line stands, field goals and a safety.

The first quarter was scoreless and the fourth quarter was breathless.

What game was this?

Wes Byrum kicked a 19-yard field goal with no time left Monday night to lift Auburn to the Bowl Championship Series title with a thrilling 22-19 win over Oregon at University of Phoenix Stadium.

It was Auburn's first national title since 1957.

"Fifty-three years, baby, this one's for you!" Auburn Coach Gene Chizik screamed to delirious fans who have endured so many years in the shadow of Alabama.

A national television audience and stadium crowd of 78,603 expected a shootout but got a drought.

Auburn and Oregon had averaged a combined 92 points per game this season but needed directions to the end zone all night.

The game may have been " Leatherheads," but the ending was downright compelling drama.

Auburn was nursing an eight-point lead in the fourth quarter when Cam Newton's fumble gave Oregon a last chance to make a game of it.

Oregon linebacker Casey Matthews punched the ball loose from Newton, with Cliff Harris recovering for the Ducks.

Oregon drove 55 yards in eight plays and tied the score with 2:33 left on a short touchdown shovel pass and a sensational two-point conversion, Darron Thomas somehow finding Jeff Maehl in the back of the end zone.

Auburn, though, got the ball back with 2:27 left.

It was too much time — and Newton wasn't even the star.

With Auburn at its own 40, Tigers tailback Michael Dyer made the play of the game, a 37-yard run in which he spun out of the grasp of Eddie Pleasant and put his team in title-winning field-goal position.

It looked at first as if Dyer was down, but replays confirmed he somehow squirmed loose without touching a knee to the ground.

"At the time I wasn't really sure, all I knew is the whistle wasn't blown and the coaches said, 'Go!'"Dyer said.

Dyer then ran 16 yards to the Oregon one, and Byrum split the uprights with the title-game winner as time expired.

Dyer finished with 143 yards.

Auburn (14-0) capped a wild, wild season with a wild, wild finish.

Could it have ended any other way?

Auburn rebounded from double-digit deficits against Clemson, South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama. The Tigers overcame a mid-season crisis when Newton became embroiled in a controversy over his father's having shopped his services to Mississippi State.

"We have his back at Auburn in everything he does," Chizik said.

The NCAA ultimately ruled Newton eligible, and the rest is now history.

"We got the last laugh," Newton said.

Newton completed 20 of 34 passes for 265 with two touchdowns. He added 64 yards rushing but took some hard shots from the Oregon defense.

"I'm OK," Newton said. "It was worth it."

The Southeastern Conference has now won five straight BCS championships, and seven of the 13 contested. Five SEC teams have claimed crowns: Tennessee, Louisiana State, Florida, Alabama and now Auburn.

Oregon (12-1) was denied its first undefeated season since 1916. The Ducks squandered key chances in the red zone and simply could not contain Nick Fairley, Auburn's All-American defensive tackle.

"We've been doing this for 14 weeks, we've just been unnoticed," Fairley said.

How could you not notice No. 90?

Fairley ran roughshod through Oregon's smaller offensive line.

"Nick Fairley proved why he is the best defensive lineman in the country," Oregon Coach Chip Kelly said. "It was just a tough matchup for us."

Oregon had to settle for a field goal in the first quarter because Fairley stuffed Thomas for a six-yard loss on third down at the Auburn two.

"In my career as a coach he's the best player I've seen," Kelly said of Fairley.

The Ducks had a tough time near the goal line all night.

Leading, 11-7, they stopped Auburn on fourth and goal but then handed two points back when Mike Blanc trapped LaMichael James in the end zone for a safety.

Auburn received the free kick and made it a 16-11 game when Newton hit Emory Blake on a 30-yard scoring pass with 1:47 left in the half.

Oregon blew another huge third-quarter chance when, down 19-11, it couldn't score from first and goal, Auburn's defense stopping Kenjon Barner cold on fourth down.

"We stopped ourselves on a lot of plays," Thomas, Oregon's quarterback, said.

Thomas, who had seven passes intercepted all season, had two picked off in Oregon's first three drives.

Fairley had something to do with it, pressuring Thomas all night while he and his teammates held Oregon to 75 yards rushing.

James, the All-American back, finished with only 49 yards and averaged 3.8 yards per carry.

The difference in the game, clearly, was Auburn's defensive line, which clogged running lanes all night.

"Their defensive line is really good," James said. "It's really hard to run around those guys."

This was all new territory for Oregon, which trailed entering the fourth quarter for the first time this season.

It was new ground, too, for Auburn, whose last national championship, in '57, prompted rival Alabama to hire a coach named Bear Bryant.

Auburn has been close before. The 1993 team was undefeated but couldn't play for the national title because it was on probation. In 2004, Auburn finished 13-0 but ended up No. 3 in the BCS standings and had to watch USC and Oklahoma play for the championship.

The NCAA's case against Newton is not technically closed, but Auburn fans are all smiles now while hoping this title sticks.

Auburn's case against Oregon, though, is officially closed.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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