The 10 best games of 2011 (as viewed by me) – #4 – BCS Championship Game: Auburn vrs. Oregon, January 10, 2011

We have to go way back on our calendar for my #4 sports game of the year for 2011, the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game between the Oregon Ducks and the Auburn Tigers.  If it seems like it was a long time ago, it’s because it was.  Auburn’s starting quarterback that night, Cam Newton, has already broken the NFL single season rookie passing record held by Peyton Manning and the Tigers and Ducks have already played their full 2011 seasons since then.  A lot has happened in the sports world since this game was played on January 10 of this year but an exciting game with an ending that featured a brilliant play by a freshman running back puts this one at #4 on my list.

Neither team gave an inch in the early going

After defeating rivals Alabama on November 26th, 2010 by one point Auburn went on to romp South Carolina in the S.E.C. Championship and complete an undefeated regular season with a 13-0 record and earn a spot in the BCS title game.  On the other side the Ducks also had to go through their bitter in-state rivals, Oregon State, to secure a spot in the BCS Championship.  They defeated them handily by a score of 37-20 to complete their own perfect regular season at 12-0.  Oregon was a young team that featured sophomore stars LaMichael James and Darron Thomas.  Auburn was led by sensation Cam Newton and a stout defense led by interior defensive lineman Nick Fairley.

The game started off with the two teams exchanging punts, managing only 1 first down between the two of them.  On the Ducks 2nd possession QB Darron Thomas was intercepted on the 5th play of the drive to give Auburn the ball at the Oregon 47.  They didn’t hold the ball for that long as Cam Newton was intercepted two plays later by cornerback Cliff Harris at the Oregon 25.  Harris returned the ball back 22 yards to their own 47.  Thomas took over looking to redeem himself for the earlier pick.  He took the team down the field in 7 plays all the way to the Auburn 20 yard line, mostly on rushes by LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner.  With 1st and 10 from the 20 the Ducks were primed to get on the board first but Thomas was again picked off by the Auburn defense at the Auburn 14.  Auburn dodged a bullet but Newton could not make the Ducks pay as he and the Auburn offense could only manage 5 plays before punting the ball back to Oregon with a little over two minutes remaining in the 1st quarter.

James celebrates his TD catch

Oregon finally got the ball rolling on offense as the opening quarter was coming to a close.  They ran 8 offensive plays to close out the quarter and had the ball with a 3rd and 2 at the Auburn 3 as the 1st quarter came to a close.  The third down play broke down and Thomas ran backwards for a loss of 6 yards and Oregon settled for a chip shot field goal to give them a 3-0 lead.  Newton came out prepared to shake off his disappointing start.  With Stanford sophomore Andrew Luck declaring that he would not enter the NFL draft before the game it gave Newton the opportunity to become the #1 pick if he could prove to scouts both here and at the NFL Scouting Combine that he was worth that top pick.  He started on the Tigers’ 1st drive of the 2nd quarter.  He took Auburn down the field on 8 plays and capped off the drive with a 35 yard touchdown strike to running back Kodi Burns for the first touchdown of the game and a 7-3 lead.  That got the ball rolling.  The first play of Oregon’s next drive was an 81 yard pass from Thomas to receiver Jeff Maehl to set the Ducks up at the Auburn 12.  Three plays later Thomas hit James for a touchdown.  The Ducks faked the extra point and kicker Rob Beard ran the ball in for a surprise 2-point conversion to give the Ducks an 11-7 lead.  Newton and the Tigers got the ball back determined to slow down the pace and went on a 16 play drive that ended at the Oregon 1 yard line after an incomplete pass by Newton on 4th and goal from the 1.  Auburn’s defense picked up Newton and the offense by not allowing James to get out of the end zone on 1st down when they tackled him for a safety to make the score 11-9.  Newton took advantage of the free kick in 6 plays, hitting receiver Emory Blake with a 30 yard touchdown pass to give Auburn a 16-11 lead.  Oregon and Auburn exchanged punts to close out the first half with a score of Auburn 16, Oregon 11.

Newton and the Auburn offense opened the second half with the ball and went 8 plays down to the Oregon 11 until they were stopped on 3rd down, leading to a 28 yard Wes Bynum field goal to give them a 19-11 lead.  Oregon’s next drive stalled at the Auburn 40 and they were forced to punt the ball back.  Auburn couldn’t manage anything on the next drive, going 3-and-out.  Oregon took over at their own 27 and Thomas engineered his own 10 play drive deep into Auburn territory.  Like Auburn earlier in the game Oregon was 4th and goal from the Auburn 1 yard line, trailing by 8 points.  Chip Kelly decided to go for it, like Gene Chizik did earlier.  Oregon called a run and Kenjon Barner was stuffed at the 1 yard line, turning the ball over to Auburn on downs.  Auburn took over at the 1 but Newton called his own number and ran for three yards to give the Tigers breathing room.  Auburn started to move the ball up field and had settled at their own 24 yard line with a 2nd and 9 as the third quarter came to a close.  They were one quarter away from winning a National Championship.

Matthews forced a Newton fumble to set up Oregon's tying TD

Newton and company moved the ball out to their own 47 yard line before the drive stalled but they had taken up valuable time and turned the field position over.  Oregon got the ball back at their own 16.  Thomas and company moved the ball down field but their drive stalled at the Auburn 46 and it was their turn to punt.  Punter Jackson Rice could only manage to pin Auburn back to their own 21 yard line.  Oregon had squandered an opportunity to pin Auburn back and it was up to the Tigers to take advantage.  They again slowly moved the ball up the field but their drive stalled at the Oregon 42 and they punted the ball back to the Ducks.  Auburn did a better job of pinning the Ducks, dropping the punt at the Oregon 14 with 6:34 left in the game.  Once again the Ducks could not muster any offense and punted the ball back to Auburn with 5:05 left.  It was Newton’s time to shine and earn that #1 draft status.  Oregon had different plans however and on a 2nd down run by Newton the ball was stripped from him by linebacker Casey Matthews and recovered by the Ducks at the Auburn 40 yard line.  A dumb personal foul penalty sent them back 15 yard but they were still at their own 45 with 4:54 remaining, needing  a touchdown and another two-point conversion to tie the game.  Thomas started to lead Oregon down the field but was quickly face with a 4th and 5 at the Auburn 40.  Darron Thomas came up with a big 29 yard pass to receiver D.J. Davis to give Oregon a 1st and 10 at the Auburn 11.  Three plays later Thomas connected with James on a two yard touchdown pass, getting the Ducks within two points.  Those two points came on the next play when Thomas connected with Maehl to tie the game at 19-19 with 2:33 left.

Dyers' miracle run sealed the game and championship for Auburn

There was 2:33 left and Auburn needed a field goal to win the game.  After Newton had fumbled on the last possession it would mean that a lot of the ball handling would be done by freshman running back Michael Dyer.  After opening with a 15 yard pass from Newton to Emory Blake the Tigers called Dyer’s number on 1st down with an off tackle play.  Dyer was dragged down after gaining 6 or 7 yards.  Dyer hopped up and he and everyone else on the field thought that the play was over but the whistle hadn’t blown.  The coaches were yelling from the sidelines to Dyer to keep running.  So Dyer started running, he ran the ball all the way down to the Oregon 23 yard line.  Much to the shock of everyone in the stands as well as everyone watching at home and the players for both teams the play stood.  The ref had never blown the whistle and Dyer’s knee had never hit the ground.  The Tigers were close to field goal range, if not already there yet.  Dyer decided to make an encore on 3rd down by running it 16 yards down to the Oregon 1 and stopping before scoring a touchdown so they could kick the ball as time expired and not give Oregon a chance to make a miracle play on a kick return or a throwback pass.  Auburn kicker Wes Bynum kicked the game winning field goal as time expired and Auburn won their first National Championship in 53 years.

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About evonsports
30 year old sports enthusiast and aspiring writer from Boston.

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