Jan. 7, 2014
PASADENA, Calif. – Ten years from now, when Auburn’s Southeastern Conference champions of 2013 gather for their reunion, they will tell stories of Chris Davis’ kick return to beat Alabama, Ricardo Louis’ catch and about a team that restored Auburn football to its rightful place.
But Tuesday night at the Rose Bowl, none of that mattered in the aftermath of a 34-31 loss to Florida State in the BCS Championship Game.
Remarkable running back Tre Mason sat silently at his locker with a towel over his head. Quarterback Nick Marshall stared straight ahead. A few players spoke softly to each other. Mostly, there was silence.
Head coach Gus Malzahn came in and told Auburn’s players that he loved them and that they should be proud. He told them to show their class and give credit to Florida State. He told them he knew they were hurting, because he was hurting, too. They all expected to win. And they had it. They had the national championship in their hands and couldn’t hold it.
They had it when they led 21-3 in the second quarter. They had it when Mason scored what they thought surely was the winning touchdown with 1:19 left.
But in the end, they didn’t have it. A missed tackle resulted in a big play. A pass interference penalty put the ball at the 2. And Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston made the throw he had to make to win the game.
For Auburn players and coaches, it was almost too much to bear.
Mason, the best running back in America, ran 34 times for 195 yards and broke Bo Jackson’s single-season Auburn rushing record. Marshall threw two touchdown passes and passed for 217 yards.
Auburn’s defense forced three-and-out after three-and-out. It made Winston look ordinary for most of the game. Almost everything that needed to happen for Auburn to win happened. It got away with 13 ticks left on the clock. It hurt everybody in that locker room. It hurt the tens of thousands of Auburn fans who traveled across the country.
A fake punt turned the momentum in the first half. A 100-yard kickoff return gave Florida State the lead late. Marshall led a drive and Mason finished it to give Auburn the lead back with just 1:19 left. It was too much time. Florida State went and won the game.
And thus ended Malzahn’s first season as head coach.
A team that was a mess a year ago came within 13 seconds of a national championship. Players who questioned everything and everybody at the end of last season fought together until they could fight no more.
The time will come soon that they will think about that and be happy.
But Monday night was not that time.
They came here to win.
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: