PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — Nick Marshall ran for a touchdown and threw scoring passes to Tre Mason and Melvin Ray in the first half, and No. 2 Auburn led No. 1 Florida State 21-13 after three quarters Monday night in the final BCS championship game.
Mason rushed for 101 yards as the Tigers closed in on their third national title and the eighth straight for the SEC, including Auburn's second in four years and the fifth straight for the state of Alabama.
All-America kicker Roberto Aguayo's second field goal of the night accounted for the only third-quarter points for either team as both defenses took charge after a frenetic first half.
The powerful Seminoles trailed by 18 points in the second quarter and 21-10 at halftime, but picked up momentum in the third quarter with solid defensive play and improvements by Jameis Winston, who was fighting a case of big-game jitters.
The Heisman Trophy-winning freshman went 6 for 15 for 62 yards in the first half on his 20th birthday, with a key fumble setting up Marshall's 4-yard TD run 5:01 before halftime. Winston also led a 66-yard scoring drive late in the first half and consistently moved Florida State in the third quarter — but with only three points to show for it.
After trailing for the first time in any game since Sept. 28, Florida State needed a big finish to become the first team to rally from a halftime deficit to win the BCS title game.
Marshall, Winston's relatively unheralded counterpart, looked sharp in the Auburn backfield. Auburn was the nation's top rushing team, but coach Gus Malzahn showed the SEC champs can fling it as well while racking up 232 yards of offense in the first half.
Mason caught a 12-yard TD screen pass in the first quarter, and Ray ran alone down the middle with a 50-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter.
Devonta Freeman had a 3-yard scoring run with 1:28 left in the half for Florida State, which faced its largest deficit and first halftime deficit of the season
Auburn's 85-yard drive early in the second quarter ended with a TD catch for Ray, the former minor league baseball player from Tallahassee who had just four receptions in the regular season. Florida State's Jalen Ramsey failed to pick up Ray all alone down the middle. Ray juked a defender near the goal line and scored as the Tigers' fans rocked the Rose Bowl stands with cheers.
Auburn's Angelo Blackson then swatted the ball out of Winston's hand on a run moments after the Tigers missed a field goal, and Marshall finished the drive by turning the corner on Florida State's defense for a score.
A successful fake punt finally sparked the Seminoles moments later. Winston made a 21-yard run complete with a vicious stiff-arm to Auburn's Kris Frost, and Freeman scored on the next play, trimming Auburn's halftime lead to 21-10.
Auburn is making its second BCS championship game appearance after beating Oregon for the title three years ago behind Heisman winner Cam Newton. The Tigers went 3-9 last season, but Malzahn quickly returned them to the national spotlight.
The Seminoles had run over every opponent in their path to a third national title, but coach Jimbo Fisher's team was tested in Pasadena. Florida State is chasing its third national championship after a spectacular season in which the Seminoles won their 13 games by an average of 42.3 points.