Byrum lifts Tigers to BCS title

ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:36 AM ET

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It is human nature when we watch football to root for the offence, for the big plays and the most spectacular of touchdowns.

We want our heroes to be quarterbacks and running backs, who pile up yards and points that the TV cameras and analysts can't resist.

So Monday night here in the desert, it was expected that either Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton and his Auburn Tigers or the race car offence of the Oregon Ducks would decide the BCS Championship. Take your pick.

Instead, the finale to the college football season delivered something much different, as the slightly favoured Tigers prevailed with an at times underwhelming but ultimately dramatic 22-19 victory.

This one, a game that had an over-under total of 74, was anything but what was billed.

It took a 19-yard field goal by kicker Wes Byrum as the clock expired to secure the win that wouldn't have been anywhere near this close if Newton was on his game.

Instead of Mr. Heisman being the game changer, it was the Tigers defence led by fearsome defensive tackle Nick Fairley, with five tackles for losses, deciding it.

Instead of a march-it-down-the-field contest, it became something so foreign to both the Ducks and Tigers in their respective undefeated season to set up the clash between No. 1 and No. 2. It became a battle of field position, a game with 10 combined punts and just four touchdowns.

Showing the signs of 37 days between games, both teams took turns alternating between inept and impotent, especially in a first quarter that saw no points, three punts and three interceptions.

"Our defence played outstanding and we knew they would play outstanding," Auburn coach Gene Chizek said. "We worked our rear ends off all month long. They came here determined to have the game of their lives." The longer the game went on, the more it became apparent the Ducks had no answer for Fairley, who was stronger and faster than any of the Oregon offensive linemen.

"Nick Fairley proved he was the best defensive lineman in the country," Oregon coach Chip Kelly said. "The matchup of our offensive line against their defensive line was really the changing point in that football game." Credit to the Ducks defence as well, which kept Newton in check and forced a crucial turnover late in the fourth quarter that almost cost the Tigers the game. But when their offence couldn't get rolling, they were Ducks out of water.

With the win, the Tigers capped off a flawless 14-0 season to continue the dominance of what many will consider the second-best football league in the world.

The Southeastern Conference, featuring teams from the Bible Belt and beyond, from so many corners of the country where football is religion, has now taken ownership of the BCS Championship, winning the past five seasons.

"I guarantee you five or six months ago, nobody would have bet their last dollar to say that Auburn University is winning the national championship," said Newton, who last year was playing junior college in Texas. "And now on January 10, 2011, we're smiling."

They'll be smiling at Auburn, which so often lives in the shadow of their inter-state rival Alabama Crimson Tide, last season's champions. With Monday's win, the Tigers won their first national title since 1957 and won their fifth game of the season by three points or less.

"That win was for these players and this Auburn family," Chizek said. "Both deserve it."

If Newton sounded more relieved than overjoyed at the end, it was for good reason. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound quarterback trapped in a linebacker's body wasn't awful. But in a season based on spectacular, he was closer to ordinary.

On his first four carries, the same Newton who rushed for more than 1,400 yards in the season slammed it in reverse going backwards for minus 13 yards. On a fourth and goal from the one in the second quarter, he badly underthrew receiver Eric Smith to turn the ball over.

Worst of all, with less than four minutes remaining and Auburn moving the ball with an eight-point lead, Newton had a near disastrous moment. Caught from behind by Oregon linebacker Casey Matthews, Newton coughed up the ball and gave the Ducks new life.

Oregon wasn't going to waste the opportunity and once in striking distance, a two-yard LaMichael James touchdown catch followed by the Ducks second two-point conversion tied the score at 19-19 with 2:33 remaining.

Hardened by eight comeback games during the season, there was no panic in the Tigers, however.

Two and a half minutes was too much time for even an off Newton, however, although the final drive wasn't without some controversy.

Auburn running back Michael Dyer appeared to be down at midfield and stopped running himself. With urging from the Tigers sideline, Dyer dashed all the way to the Oregon 23 on his way to 143 rushing yards.

Another Dyer run got the ball to the two, setting up Byrum's winning boot, a kick to the heart of the Ducks.

"One game doesn't define you," Ducks coach Kelly said. "We had a tremendous season. A lot of other people would like to be in our shoes."

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