College Football

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Special teams play big factor in BCS title game

By Gerard Gallagher, Contributing College Football Editor

(SportsNetwork.com) - Live by the return, die by the return.

The biggest play in Auburn's season, the one that ultimately catapulted the Tigers into the BCS National Championship Game even though they had to win once more to get there, was Chris Davis' last-second missed field goal return to beat Alabama in the Iron Bowl.

It was an all-time shocker, one of the greatest plays in college football history.

In Monday's title game, the Tigers were on the opposite side of another big return.

Kermit Whitfield -- a freshman wide receiver said to have 4.37 40-yard speed -- took a kickoff back from just inside the goal line to give Florida State its first lead since 3-0 in the first quarter.

The play came with 4 1/2 minutes remaining and sent Auburn reeling, its 21-3 first-half lead suddenly evaporated.

None of Gus Malzahn's players came close to touching Whitfield as he carried the ball out of the end zone and cut left, racing down the sideline.

"Obviously we didn't cover it very well," the Auburn coach said. "That was a big play in the game. That was uncharacteristic (of us) but you gotta give them a lot of credit."

It was one of several key special teams plays on the Rose Bowl field Monday night, where Florida State beat Auburn 34-31 for its first national title in 14 years.

Earlier, Auburn's Steven Clark pinned Florida State down at the 2-yard line with a perfectly placed boot that looked less like a punt than a chip-shot in golf, the ball landing with a little backspin on it.

After the Seminoles went three-and-out Davis -- the Iron Bowl hero -- returned the ensuing punt 22 yards to set up Auburn's first touchdown for a 7-3 lead.

Later, his team trailing by 18 points, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher knew he needed to pull a rabbit out of his hat.

The call? A fake punt on 4th-and-4 from his own 40-yard line. Karlos Williams picked up seven yards on an end-around and Devonta Freeman scored on a 3-yard run with 88 seconds remaining in the half to pull the Seminoles within 11.

"I knew if they got it back and scored, the game could be over right there," said Fisher. "I thought that's what we had to do to get the momentum back."

Later, with Auburn clinging to a 21-13 lead, Tigers defensive back Jonathan Jones raced to keep Clark's punt out of the end zone and it was downed at the 4-yard line. Florida State made it as far as its 32-yard line and then punted.

The teams averaged 43 yards on 12 combined punts. Florida State didn't get to return any of the six punts it fielded.

Special indeed.

01/07 02:43:51 ET

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Scoreboard
Local
Final
CHA 91
CHI 86
Final
DUR 6
NOR 9
 
7:05pm Tonight
DUR
NOR
 
Final
CIN 4
PIT 0
Final
BAL 3
TAM 0
Final
NYY 3
CHC 0
Final
MIL 5
STL 1
Final
ARI 2
NYM 5
Final
PHI 0
ATL 1
Final
NYY 2
CHC 0
Final
DET 2
CLE 3
Final
MIA 3
WAS 6
Final
TEX 3
SEA 2
Final
CWS 4
BOS 6
Final
HOU 4
KAN 6
8:10pm Wednesday
MIN 0
TOR 0
Final
ANA 5
OAK 4
Final
SDP 4
COL 2
Final
SFG 2
LOS 1
1:05pm Today
PHI
ATL
 
1:08pm Today
DET
CLE
 
1:10pm Today
MIN
TOR
 
2:05pm Today
TEX
SEA
 
3:45pm Today
SFG
LOS
 
6:40pm Tonight
SDP
COL
 
7:05pm Tonight
PIT
MIL
 
7:05pm Tonight
WAS
STL
 
7:10pm Tonight
TAM
NYY
 
7:10pm Tonight
MIN
TOR
 
8:10pm Tonight
CWS
BOS
 
8:10pm Tonight
HOU
KAN
 
Final
CHA 91
CHI 86
Final
ORL 86
IND 101
Final
MIL 103
ATL 111
Final
CLE 114
BRK 85
Final
MEM 106
DAL 105
Final
OKC 112
DET 111
Final
NOP 105
HOU 100
Final
SAN 100
LAL 113
Final
MIA 87
PHI 100
Final
NYK 95
TOR 92
Final
MIN 130
UTA 136
Final
BOS 102
WAS 118
Final
DEN 112
GSW 116
Final
POR 110
LAC 104
Final
SAC 99
PHO 104
Final
TAM 4
MON 5
Final
PIT 4
CLB 3
Final
ANA 4
DAL 3
7:00pm Tonight
NYR
PHI
8:00pm Tonight
STL
CHI
9:30pm Tonight
COL
MIN
10:30pm Tonight
SJS
LOS
Final
DUR 6
NOR 9
 
7:05pm Tonight
DUR
NOR