ORLANDO, Florida (Ticker) -- Redemption.
Anthony Thomas, whose late fumble against Northwestern cost his team a Rose Bowl bid, became Michigan's all-time rushing leader as the 15th-ranked Wolverines continued their postseason success, 31-28 over No. 20 Auburn in the Citrus Bowl.
Thomas carried 32 times for 181 yards and two touchdowns, raising his total to 4,469. He broke Jamie Morris' previous school mark of 4,393 on an 11-yard TD run that gave the Wolverines the lead for good, 21-14, with 54 seconds left in the first half.
"It hasn't set in on me yet," Thomas said. "It'll probably take until the bus ride home."
"Through all four years, he never changed," Michigan coach Lloyd Carr added. "All the things he won never changed him. He left a legacy for tailbacks at Michigan."
Playing his final game at Michigan, Thomas also set three other school marks Monday -- career scoring (336 points) and touchdowns (56) and single-season rushing attempts (319).
Michigan (9-3) has won four straight bowl games for just the second time in school history but this is the first time the Wolverines have done it in consecutive years. The current streak started in 1998, when Michigan captured its last national championship.
"I looked around at the Michigan fans and the field to get one more picture of it before I took my jersey off for the last time," Michigan senior guard Steve Hutchinson said.
Ben Leard, who completed 28-of-37 passes for a career-high 394 yards and three touchdowns in his final game, fired a 21-yard TD strike to Deandre Green to bring the Tigers within 31-28 with 2:25 left.
Michigan, which squandered double-figure leads in each of its losses this season, recovered the onside kick and was able to run out the clock after quarterback Drew Henson scrambled for a first down. The Wolverines closed the season with a three-game winning streak.
"I'm proud of Michigan," Carr said. "When you look at where we were three games ago, our season could have gone either way. Superior senior leadership led us here."
Despite the loss, Auburn capped a successful season at 9-4. Not expected to contend in the Southeastern Conference, the Tigers won the Western Division title before losing to Florida in the SEC championship game.
"This is a typical ballgame for us because we played all the way to the end of the game and that's the reason we're here today," Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said. "We came up a little short."
Henson, the Big Ten Conference leader in passing efficiency, also was on target throughout, completing 15-of-20 for 294 yards and two touchdowns. At one point, he completed 11 straight passes before the streak ended on a spike late in the third quarter to avoid a sack.
David Terrell had four receptions for 136 yards to become the first Michigan receiver to surpass 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons. He finished this season with 1,130 yards, eclipsing last year's total of 1,038.
"They (Michigan) have a lot of talent," Tuberville said. "They kept us off balance in the first half and had us grasping for air whenever they threw the ball down field. Their timing was a bit better than I expected."
Henson and Leard put on a show in the first half as each threw a pair of TD strikes. But Michigan scored 21 straight points after Laird's 19-yard scoring strike to Ronney Daniels gave Auburn a 14-7 lead 43 seconds into the second quarter.
"We told the team this morning not to worry about the outcome but to play by possession and the momentum will change," Carr said. "This is a team that does not lose its poise."
Michigan scored TDs on three of its next four possessions to open a 28-14 lead. The Wolverines tied it on Henson's four-yard TD pass to B.J. Askew with 6:41 left in the first half and Thomas scored on runs of 11 and 25 yards.
Rudi Johnson, who overcame a slow start to rush for 85 yards on 25 attempts, scored on a 12-yard run to pull the Tigers within 28-21 with 4:08 left in the third.
But Michigan's defense stiffened and the Wolverines grabbed a 10-point margin on a 41-yard field goal by Hayden Epstein with 1:35 to go in the period.
Auburn missed a pair of opportunties to draw closer in the fourth period. Damon Duval missed a 40-yard field goal wide right with 12:59 remaining, ending his string of 11 consecutive successful kicks.
The Tigers drove to Michigan's 28 on its next possession. But end Grant Bowman got to Leard on a blitz, jarring the ball loose. End Shawn Lazarus pounced on the fumble at the 25 with seven minutes to play.