PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — America, meet Kermit Whitfield.
In a game with a Heisman winner, a Heisman finalist and future NFL players on both sides, a freshman made the momentum-shifting play that helped Florida State rally for a 34-31 victory over Auburn in the final BCS championship game.
The Seminoles trailed 24-20 with less than five minutes remaining when Auburn kicked off following a 22-yard field goal. Whitfield, one of the fastest players in the country, caught the ball in the end zone and took off up the left seam. Teammate Karlos Williams made a block and an Auburn player got out of his lane to open a gaping alley.
Whitfield was never touched en route to a 100-yard return that gave the Seminoles their first lead, 27-24 with 4:31 left in the fourth quarter, since going up 3-0 in the first quarter. He knew he was gone soon as Williams sealed off the defender, allowing him to turn the corner.
"Knew nobody was going to catch me," Whitfield said. "I saw green. I saw daylight. That's all I saw. I can't really explain.
"I'm gone. You can't touch me."
Coach Jimbo Fisher actually predicted Whitfield would score a touchdown at halftime. Coaches and players felt they were close to breaking a long one on previous kick returns.
"He said either it's going to be a set up for good yardage, or it's going to be a touchdown," Williams said. "I said, 'No. 7, what it's going to be?' He said, 'It's going to be a touchdown.'"
At 5-foot-7, Whitfield is the smallest player on the roster, but also the fastest. He ran a 10.15 100-meter dash in high school that was the third-fastest in Florida high school history. Whitfield said he couldn't remember the last time he was caught from behind on the football field. The last time he ran a 40-yard dash he finished in 4.37 seconds — and that was untrained. He believes he's faster now.