GLENDALE, Ariz. - Auburn running back Michael Dyer never heard any whistle, so he just kept running — past the tackler who thought he had him down and deep into Oregon territory.
Dyer broke stride, then took off on a once-in-a-lifetime run in the final minutes, setting up a field goal on the last play that led No. 1 Auburn over the No. 2 Ducks, 22-19, in the BCS championship game Monday night.
The freshman running back upstaged Auburn’s Heisman-winning quarterback Cam Newton with a 37-yard run, in which he appeared to be down but wasn’t — his knee never hit the ground — as he rolled over Oregon defender Eddie Pleasant to put the Tigers in scoring position.
Three plays later, Dyer ran 16 yards to push the ball to the 1 and set up Wes Byrum’s 19-yard field goal as time expired.
It was Byrum’s sixth career game-winning field goal — the one that capped off a perfect 14-0 season, brought the title back to Auburn for the first time since 1957 and left the Southeastern Conference on top for the fifth consecutive season.
“Fifty-three years, baby,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik said to the cheering crowd. “This is for you. War Eagle!”
Said Newton: “Anything is possible. I guarantee that nobody five or six months ago would have (said) that Auburn University is going to win the national championship. Now, on Jan. 10, 2011, we can say we did it.”
It was a classic sequence to close out a wild finish — five crazy minutes of football that made up for the first 55, which were more of a bruising battle than the offensive masterpiece almost everyone had predicted.
The craziness began when Casey Matthews, son of the former NFL linebacker Clay, knocked the ball from Newton’s hands while he was trying to ice a 19-11 lead.
Oregon’s offense, shut down by the Nick Fairley-led Auburn defense most of the night, moved 45 yards over the next 2:17 and Darron Thomas threw a shovel pass to LaMichael James for a touchdown. Thomas hit Jeff Maehl for the tying two-point conversion with 2:33 remaining and the game was down to one possession.
And that possession will be remembered for one incredible play.
Dyer took the handoff from Newton and ran off right tackle for what looked like a 6- or 7-yard gain.
Nothing routine about this one, though. Dyer never heard a whistle, wasn’t sure his knee hit the ground, so he popped up and kept going. Almost everyone on the field had stopped, but the referee never blew the play dead. Dyer made it to the Oregon 23.
An official’s review ensued and the replay showed that, indeed, his knee had never touched the turf.
“I was going out there, trying to make a play. I just kept my feet moving,” Dyer said.
The freshman finished with 143 yards and was named offensive player of the game — no small feat considering he had the Heisman Trophy winner, Newton, playing well on the same offense.
Newton threw for 265 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 64 yards, most in short, punishing bites.
It was a good performance, but not spectacular — par for the course in a game that was projected as a possible 60-55 shootout by Steve Spurrier and a 74-point touchdown-fest by the oddsmakers who set the over-under line.
Wearing white jerseys, green pants and DayGlo shoes and socks, the Ducks got only 49 yards rushing from James.
An offense that had been held under 37 points only once during the regular season managed just two touchdowns.
The last one came on a simple shovel pass from Thomas, who finished with 363 yards — 81 of which came on a long pass to Maehl that set up the first touchdown.
Fairley, Auburn’s 298-pound defensive tackle, did the most damage. He lived up to his reputation as a game-changer for better, with three tackles for loss, including a sack.
“I cannot be more proud of our defense,” Chizik said. “For one month our defense was bound and determined to show up here tonight and play the best game of their life.”
Newton was a game-changer as always, keeping Auburn ahead in this tight game, the final outing in a season shadowed by an NCAA investigation into his failed recruitment by Mississippi State.
The governing body cleared him to play before the SEC championship but said his father, Cecil, solicited money from the Bulldogs.
McClatchy news services contributed to this report.