September 21, 2008

Late score lifts LSU over Auburn

LSU made the final big play, and as usual that's what settled the annual down-to-the-wire clash with Auburn.

This time the winning connection wasn't Flynn-to-Byrd, but Lee-to-LaFell.

Jarrett Lee and Brandon LaFell hooked up on an 18-yard touchdown pass with 1:03 left to lift No. 6 LSU to yet another dramatic comeback win over No. 10 Auburn, 26-21 Saturday in an SEC West showdown that once again produced a fantastic finish and wild momentum swings.

The last five meetings have been decided by a collective 19 points in a rivalry that has produced more than drama. The winner has gone to the SEC championship game in six of the last eight seasons.

And last year Matt Flynn's last-second TD pass to Demetrius Byrd helped propel LSU to a national title.

"We expected such a battle when we came here," LSU coach Les Miles said. "I thought they showed great poise. To be tested away and be tested by a very, very capable opponent and answering that test is just what this team needed."

The only major difference in this one was the road team came out on top. The last eight games in the series had gone to the home team. LSU (3-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) also snapped Auburn's streak of six consecutive victories at Jordan-Hare Stadium against Top 10 teams.

Lee took over for an injured Andrew Hatch in the third quarter and produced a series of big plays to make up for a lousy start for LSU. Lee missed his first five throws, with an interception returned by defensive end Gabe McKenzie for a touchdown.

Auburn (3-1, 1-1) moved to LSU's 47 on the final drive, with help from Rahim Alem's roughing the passer penalty. Alem atoned with a sack of Chris Todd to recoup the 15-yard loss.

Todd's desperation fourth-and-25 pass to Rod Smith came up short of the first down.

Byrd came up big again for LSU. He pulled in a 22-yard halfback pass from Keiland Williams on the final play of the third quarter for a 17-14 lead. Miles said the coaches installed that play in practice this week.

"It just happened to be the right time for that play," said Miles, who also had successfully converted an onside kick after LSU's first TD. "We needed a fast score."

Colt David added a 32-yard field goal with 8:27 left and set LSU's career record for points scored by a kicker.

Todd and Auburn's offense kept the team alive. He hit Robert Dunn for a 15-yard touchdown pass with 6:40 left on third-and-9 to give Auburn a 21-20 lead. It was set up by a 58-yard heave to Tim Hawthorne when Todd rolled left, turned around and saw Hawthorne running free near the right sideline.

Lee, who had been platooning with Hatch, was 4-for-4 on the winning drive for 43 yards.

"We had the ballgame," Tuberville said. "We had the lead, we lost it; we had the lead again, we lost it. We've got a disappointed bunch of guys in the locker room. We felt like the way we played at times, we should have won it. They made a few more plays than we did."

It was the first major test for the defending national champions, who opened with wins over Appalachian State and North Texas.

Once again, LSU passed. And ran, too.

Charles Scott rushed for 132 tackle-breaking yards against an Auburn defense that was virtually untouchable in a 3-2 win at Mississippi State last weekend but appeared to weaken under the 233-pounder's barrage.

LSU had never had a 100-yard rusher at Jordan-Hare.

Lee was 11-for-22 for 182 yards and two touchdowns, including a 39-yarder to Chris Mitchell in the third. LSU gained 284 of its 389 yards in the second half.

"In the first half, receivers were getting open and the offensive line was blocking," Lee said. "I was just making poor decisions. I knew I would get back in and I knew when the opportunity came back, I had to make the right decisions.

"I just felt comfortable out there."

Scott said LSU players at halftime felt they would pull it out.

"I know we had no doubt," he said. "We knew it would be like this, we knew it would be a four-quarter game and we were ready to play."

Todd had his most productive game as Auburn's starter, going 17-for-32 for 250 yards. The junior college transfer was intercepted twice by Chris Hawkins.

"It was real exciting. There's nothing like it," Todd said. "The adrenaline rush, playing on that stage was awesome. You'd like to win, but it came down to the end, and those are the type of games you like to play in."

Auburn's Ben Tate was held to 45 yards on 19 carries. Fellow tailback Brad Lester left with a right leg injury in the third quarter, but Tuberville said he could have returned.

McKenzie had returned an interception 24 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter for a 14-3 lead.

Hatch was only 2-for-6 for 16 yards for LSU, but ran for 51 yards. He looked wobbly after his final run and was helped off the field after going to the ground while trying to walk to LSU's sideline.

"We think he'll be fine," Miles said. "He had his neck yanked and it kind of stung."



 

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