GLENDALE, Ariz. — For a moment, Michael Dyer stopped running.
No whistle. No ref raising his hand.
So Dyer began running again — past the tackler who thought he had him down, deep into Oregon territory.
A once-in-a-lifetime run, the kind that wins championships.
Dyer’s stop-and-go maneuver set up a short field goal on the last play that lifted No. 1 Auburn over the No. 2 Ducks 22-19 in the BCS title game Monday night.
“All I knew was the whistle wasn’t blowing and my coach was saying ‘Go!’ ” Dyer said.
With his 37-yard run, sure to be preserved in college football’s highlight reel, the freshman running back did what most thought impossible — he upstaged his teammate, Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Cam Newton.
Three plays later, Dyer ran 16 yards to push the ball to the 1 and set up Wes Byrum’s 19-yard field goal with no time left. It was Byrun’s sixth career winning field goal — one that capped 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 straight year.
“Fifty-three years, baby!” coach Gene Chizik said to the cheering crowd. “This is for you. War Eagle!”
Dyer was the star of a classic sequence that closed 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 everyone had predicted.
The craziness began when Casey Matthews, son of 1980s 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 Nick Fairley & Co. 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 passed to Jeff Maehl for the tying 2-point conversion with 2:33 left and the game was down to the last possession.
That possession will be remembered for one incredible play.
Dyer, who chose jersey No. 5 because that’s how old his brother was when their father died in a car accident nearly two decades ago, took the handoff from Newton and ran off right tackle for what looked like a 6- or 7-yard gain. There was nothing routine about this run, though.
Dyer wasn’t sure his knee hit the ground, so — urged by his coaches on the sideline — he popped up and kept going. Almost everyone on the field had stopped playing, but the referee never blew the play dead. Dyer reached the Oregon 23. An official’s review ensued and the replay showed that, indeed, his knee had never touched the turf.
“Really, it was going through my mind to get the first down, hold onto the ball,” Dyer said. “And the time being tackled, my knee wasn’t down … I didn’t hear a whistle, not yet, so I was kind of, like, looking, like, what’s going on?”
Afterward, Big Ten referee Bill LeMonnier said in a statement that he was confident of the call: “The ruling on the field was there was nothing other than the foot that touched the ground.”
Eddie Pleasant, the Oregon defensive back who almost made the tackle, was as shocked as anyone.
“It hurts, you know,” he said. “It’s not like he broke free and did some spectacular things. He was tackled. Everybody on the side of the defense stopped. He stopped and the coach told him to keep running and he ran. It’s not like it was a blown assignment. It’s not like he busted a 50-yard run down the middle. It was just a crazy play.”
Dyer finished with 143 yards and was chosen Offensive Player of the Game — no small feat considering he had 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. He wrenched his back and had to go to the trainer after the game.
“I’m OK. It was worth it,” he said.
Wearing white jerseys with gray numbers, 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 once all year managed only the two touchdowns. The second came on a simple shovel pass from Thomas, who finished with 363 yards — 81 which came on a long pass to Maehl that set up the first touchdown.
Oregon didn’t come close to its nation-leading 49-point average and the fast-paced offense that turned most opponents into mush in the second half couldn’t wear down Auburn.
The Ducks finished 12-1, three points shy of their first national title, but not making apologies for the effort they gave in the desert.
“When it comes down to a field goal at the last second, you can always point to play here, a play there, but it really doesn’t do much for you,” Oregon coach Chip Kelly said. “We’re a forward-thinking operation, and we’ll learn from this thing and move forward.”AUBURN — 22 OREGON — 19
KEY: Freshman running back Michael Dyer kept his knee off the ground, ran for 37 yards and put the Tigers in position for Wes Byrum’s 19-yard field goal on the final play.