By Dennis Washington
GLENDALE, AZ (WBRC) - The Auburn Tigers, led by Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton and a determined defense, overpowered the Oregon Ducks to become the champions of college football, its first football championship in more than 50 years.
Auburn (14-0) defeated Oregon (12-1) by a score of 22-19 Monday night in the BCS Championship game in Glendale, Arizona, before a record crowd dominated by Auburn fans.
Newton, considered to be one of the best quarterbacks in college football history, threw for more than 250 yards and two touchdowns. He was backed up by an Auburn defense which held Oregon's offense to only 11 points in the first half, sacked quarterback Darron Thomas twice, and stopped Oregon from scoring twice in the red zone.
Auburn scored 16 points in the second quarter, including a 35-yard touchdown pass from Cam Newton to Kodi Burns and a 30-yard touchdown pass from Newton to Emory Blake.
The victory marks Auburn's second college football championship in team history, the first since 1957. The victory also marks the fifth straight victory for a Southeastern Conference team in the BCS championship game.
The first quarter was scoreless. Oregon won the toss and elected to receive the opening kick, putting Auburn on defense to begin the game.
On their first drives, neither Oregon nor Auburn were able to get a first down and traded punts. On Oregon's second drive, Auburn cornerback Demond Washington intercepted a pass at the Oregon 47 yard line. Then, two plays later, Oregon safety James Scales intercepted Cam Newton's pass, running it back to the Oregon 47 yard line.
Oregon then drove the ball inside the 20 until Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas was intercepted by Auburn safety Zac Etheridge on the Oregon 14 yard line. Auburn, though, was unable to move the ball and was forced to punt after three plays.
A total of three interceptions were thrown between both teams in the first quarter, including one by Auburn quarterback Cam Newton. It was the first time this season Cam Newton had thrown an interception in the first quarter.
Neither team scored in the first quarter, but both teams made up for it in the second quarter, scoring a total of 27 points between the two teams before halftime.
Oregon kicked a field goal to begin the second quarter. Auburn then got the ball and drove the field, ending the drive with a 35-yard touchdown pass from Cam Newton to Kodi Burns with 12:00 to go in the second quarter.
Oregon then took the ball on its own seven yard line and quickly drove down the field. Quarterback Darron Thomas threw an 81-yard pass to Jeff Maehl which set up an eight-yard touchdown pass from Thomas to LaMichael James with 10:58 to go in the second quarter. The Ducks converted a two-point conversion by Rob Beard to make the score 11-7.
The 81-yard pass play was the longest pass play in a BCS Championship game, breaking the previous record of 79 yards set by Tee Martin and Peerless Price in the 1999 title game.
Auburn then drove the ball 68 yards to the Oregon 1 yard line, but failed to score and turned the ball over on downs with 3:44 left before halftime.
Oregon then took over the ball but Oregon running back LaMichael James was tackled in the endzone for a safety, making the score 11-9.
Auburn then took the kickoff on its 34 yard line and drove 66 yards, ending the drive with a 30-yard touchdown pass from Cam Newton to Emory Blake with 1:47 remaining in the second quarter.
Auburn led 16-11 at halftime, continuing a BCS tradition. In the previous 11 BCS title games, the team leading at halftime went on to win the game.
The third quarter was fairly quiet. Auburn kicked a 42-yard field goal with 11:30 on the clock in the third quarter. Oregon then drove the ball down the field, but turned the ball over on downs at the Auburn 1 yard line.
Neither team scored again until late in the fourth quarter, when Oregon drove 55 yards, ending the drive with a two-yard touchdown pass from Thomas to James. The two-point conversion was also successful, tying the game at 19-19.
Then, Auburn got the ball on their 25-yard line with 2:27 left in the game and drove it 74 yards in five plays to the Oregon 1 yard line. With two seconds left in the game, Wes Byrum kicked a game-winning 17-yard field goal to put the Tigers ahead, 22-19.
The game ended 22-19.
Oregon had 23 first downs and Auburn had 28. Oregon had 73 plays on offense and gained a total of 449 yards, while Auburn ran 85 plays and had 519 yards in total offense.
Cam Newton completed 20 passes out of 34 attempts for 265 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He was sacked twice.
Darron Thomas completed 27 of his 40 passes for 363 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions and no sacks.
An estimated 78,603 fans attended the game, a new stadium attendance record, and there were clearly more Auburn fans than Oregon fans in the stands. The east side of the stadium was a solid mix of orange and blue, while the west side of the stadium was mixed with Auburn fans and Oregon fans.
In addition, an estimated 20,000 people watched the game on a large, outdoor screen at nearby Westgate City Center.
Auburn fans cheered loudly during the pre-game festivities, when the Air Force Academy Cadet Chorale was accompanied by an in-stadium fly-around from Challenger, the only bald eagle in U.S. history trained to fly in stadiums during anthems.
Honorary captains for the game were former Auburn running back Bo Jackson and Ahmad Rashad of Oregon.
This was the first time these two schools had faced each other in a football game. This game also marked the first time a school from the SEC and a school from the Pac-10 had met in the national title game.