The Tigers had just scored on a Cameron Newton one-yard run to take a 35-14 lead. South Carolina was facing a third-and-eight situation from its own 22 a few moments later. Time was out during a review of a pass knocked from receiver Jason Barnes on a jarring hit by Auburn's Neiko Thorpe.
"During the timeout Coach (Gene) Chizik came to me and told me to bust it up the middle as best I can and I will come free," says linebacker Craig Stevens. "It came up just like we planned it."
The result was Stevens pressured South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia into rushing his pass into the waiting arms of cornerback T'Sharvan Bell, who raced into the end zone from 10 yards out with the interception for six points.
Bell credited Stevens with tipping the pass.
"I wasn't going to drop it like I did against Alabama," Bell says. "I knew I was going to score."
A senior who sat out the first two games of the season for disciplinary reasons, Stevens has started 36 consecutive games other than those two misses. The SEC title is the highlight of his career to this point with a National Championship Game on the horizon.
"It's starting to sink in, but I don't think it's actually hit home yet that we are going to play for the national championship," Stevens says about Saturday's win. "It means a lot. You dream about going out this way. We have a chance to play for the national championship and I thank the Lord for that."
In other news and notes:
*The higher ranked team has now won 13 of the 19 championship games. Western Division champs are 8-11 in title games. The attendance of 75,802 is the fourth highest in SEC Championship Game history.
*Auburn has the two fastest scores in SEC Championship Game history. Onterio McCalebb's 12-yard touchdown catch from Newton with 13:20 remaining in the opening quarter is second to tight end Cole Bennett's fumble recovery end zone with 13:24 left in Auburn's 2004 SEC title win over Tennessee.
*Saturday's game marked the second time in history of the title game that both teams scored on their first possession The first time was in the inaugural championship game in 1992 won by Alabama over Florida.
*Auburn's 21 first-quarter points and the combined 28 points by Auburn and South Carolina in the opening quarter are championship game records.
*The 42 combined first half points (28-14) is also a championship game high mark, eclipsing the 28 points between Florida and Alabama (24-14 Florida) in 1996.
Darvin Adams scores for the Tigers.
*Junior wide receiver Darvin Adams broke the SEC Championship Game record for yards receiving in the first half with 217 yards coming on seven receptions. His touchdown catches of 54 and 51 yards didn't represent his longest reception, which was a 62-yarder to set up Auburn's first touchdown. The previous yards receiving mark was held by Florida's Riedel Anthony who caught 11 passes for 171 yards in 1996. Adams didn't record a catch in the second half.
*Auburn is the only team nationally that has defeated five teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 going into the SEC Championship Game. No team outside the SEC West has beaten more than two. Going into Saturday's contest, the Tigers had wins over No. 8 Arkansas, No. 11 LSU, No. 17 Alabama, No. 18 South Carolina and No. 22 Mississippi State. Arkansas, which Auburn beat on October 17, has defeated four currently ranked teams and LSU has three wins over ranked teams.
*Four of Auburn's victories game over teams ranked at the time they played. It marks the first time the Tigers posted wins over four ranked teams in the same season since 2004 when they finished 13-0 and ranked second in the nation.
*Saturday was only the 13th time Auburn has played in a domed stadium. The Tigers are 6-6-1 in all games and 5-3-1 in bowl contests played in domed venues.
*With its SEC West-clinching 49-31 victory over Georgia on November 13, Auburn has won or shared the SEC West title seven times since 1997. Three of those titles are outright--2000, 2004 and 2010. The Tigers have played in SEC title games in 1997, 2000, 2004 and 2010. Auburn has won seven SEC championships, sixth best in league history. The Tigers are 2-2 in championship games.