PASADENA, Calif. — For more than two years, Florida State had refused to fold, seemingly capable of coming back from any deficit.

So many times throughout the season, the Seminoles had been battered and bruised, nicked and cut, but never could be closed out, a defending champion unwilling to cede its crown.

In the days leading up to the long-awaited inaugural College Football Playoff semifinal, multiple Oregon players said they would have to “kill” their opponent, believing that allowing Florida State to breathe meant allowing Florida State an opportunity to win.

The Ducks didn’t take any chances, burying Florida State with a record-setting performance and
dethroning them as the kings of college football after 29 straight wins, with a 59-20 Rose Bowl rout on New Year’s Day, becoming the first team in the 101st edition of the historic bowl to score at least 50 points.

No. 2 Oregon (13-1), looking for their first-ever national title, will play No. 4 Ohio State — 42-35 winners over No. 1 Alabama — in the national championship on Jan. 12 in Arlington, Texas.

“It’s an incredible feeling,” Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota said. “They were undefeated the last two years and just that in itself says a lot about what they’ve been able to do.

“I’m just proud of these guys. We’ve got one more to take care of.”

Already having already ripped the nation’s top honor from Jameis Winston, Mariota stiff-armed the divisive star’s shot at another national championship in the third-ever meeting between Heisman-winning quarterbacks, showcasing every aspect of his dazzling arsenal with 400 total yards and three touchdowns, while Winston suffered the first — and potentially only — loss of his college career.

Winston threw for 348 yards, but committed two of the team’s four game-changing third-quarter turnovers.

Trailing 25-20 midway through the third quarter, the No. 3 Seminoles (13-1) had just scored to set the stage for another comeback, but Oregon swapped the script, unleashing a devastating and dizzying blitz which turned an exciting back-and-forth shootout into a bloody, one-sided beatdown.

Following a 56-yard touchdown pass from Mariota to Darren Carrington, Florida State freshman Dalvin Cook — who had 90 of his 103 rushing yards in the first half — fumbled for the second time in the quarter, setting up a 30-yard strike to Carrington to take a 39-20 lead with 4:21 left in the third quarter, sending the overwhelming Oregon crowd into a frenzy after its third touchdown in an eight-play stretch.

Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota (center), Tony Washington and coach Mark Helfrich celebrate after their 59-20 win over Florida State in the Rose Bowl Thursday night.Photo: AP

The unimaginable afternoon only became more unbelievable.

Trailing by 18 and facing a vital fourth-and-5 in Oregon territory with under two minutes left in the third quarter, Winston saw the ball slip from his hand while scrambling away from defenders, sending linebacker Tony Washington 58 yards for a touchdown return.

Two plays later, Winston threw an interception. Florida State’s reign was over.

“One of the worst quarters we’ve had,” Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher. “Momentum and the way they got the ball in the turnover situation, that made the difference.”

Florida State kicked a field goal for the game’s first points, but never led again, with Oregon responding by unleashing the first of a flurry of fast-paced drives, going 73 yards in just over two minutes to score the game’s first touchdown — a 1-yard run from Royce Freeman, his first of two — with 6:55 left in the first quarter.

After throwing for seven yards on his first two drives, Winston came up short on the game’s first big turning point. On the Seminoles’ third straight opportunity at Oregon’s goal-line, Winston was stopped on a fourth down run inside the 1-yard line, which was initially ruled a touchdown before being overruled because his knee was down before the ball broke the plane.

After a Thomas Tyner 1-yard touchdown run put the Ducks up 18-6 with 2:18 left in the first half, Florida State quickly came back, with Karlos Williams scoring on a 10-yard touchdown run up the middle to bring the Seminoles within five, 18-13, with 36 seconds left in the half.

For the sixth time this season, Florida State trailed at the half. For the first time since 2012, Florida State met its match.

Now, a new king could be crowned.

“It’s uncharted territory,” Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said of the playoff format. “Now you have another game. How long will you enjoy this?”

Just long enough.

“We need to enjoy this because those guys haven’t been beaten in a long time and it’s tough,” Helfrich said. “It’s tough to do what our guys have done.”

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