On the next play Winston threw high to the 6-foot-5 Benjamin for the touchdown.
“Once the ball is in the air on that post route, I’ve got to go get it, and I did,” Benjamin said. “Simple as that.”
There was no miracle finish this time for the turnaround Tigers, who went from 3-9 to SEC champions in their first season under coach Gus Malzahn. They tossed the ball around on one final play, but it ended with Florida State jumping on a fumble, and the Seminoles sprinting onto the field under a storm of garnet and gold confetti.
Florida State scored 21 points in the fourth quarter, and the teams combined for 24 in a breathtaking last 4:42.
“It felt storybook again,” Auburn defensive tackle Gabe Wright said. “It really felt like we were going to bring it out again. We’re just on the other end of the stick. It’s usually us going out on the field and celebrating. It’s been a long time since we had an ‘L’ in this locker room.”
Auburn won nine straight to get here after starting the season unranked.
Tre Mason gave Auburn (12-2) a 31-27 lead with a 37-yard touchdown run with 1:19 left after Kermit Whitfield had put Florida State in the lead for the first time since the first quarter with a 100-yard kickoff return to make it 27-24 with 4:31 left.
Mason ran for 195 yards and scored two touchdowns, and Nick Marshall threw two touchdown passes for the Tigers.
“I told them in the locker room, we put together the biggest turnaround in the history of college football. We were on the brink of making it one of those magical seasons,” Malzahn said.
Florida State hadn’t been challenged like this all season, winning by an average of 42 points.
Florida State and Winston’s biggest problem this season came off the field. Winston was investigated for a year-old sexual assault complaint in November, but after three weeks the Florida state attorney’s office determined it did not have enough evidence to charge him.
The Seminoles were down 21-3 in the first half to Auburn. They hadn’t trailed in a game since Sept. 28.
“I knew we were fighters,” nose tackle Timmy Jernigan said.
And now Florida State is national champion for the first time since 1999, the first team to win the BCS title game after being down at halftime. The state of Alabama’s national championship run is over at four, stopped by a quarterback from Bessemer who never rooted for the Tigers or Tide.
“Only thing is we’re victorious and glad to say Florida State is the national champion again, and I guarantee you we’re bringing that swag back,” Winston said. “You’d better believe it.”