Winning Tigers Enjoy Exciting Finish

A pair of Auburn defensive players discuss their victory over Mississippi State.

Auburn, Ala.--After letting Mississippi State drive 65 yards down the field to the one-yard line, the Auburn defense stepped up when it mattered most, stuffing Chris Relf on a quarterback keeper at the one-inch line on the game's last play, clinching a 41–34 win for the Tigers.

"I just heard the crowd roar, so I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, we stopped him,' so I just jumped up," said the sophomore defensive end Craig Sanders of Ryan Smith's tackle at the goal line that took out Relf's legs and preserved Auburn's seven-point lead. "It was so awesome."

Sanders, who finished the game with three tackles and one-and-a-half tackles for a loss, said that during the timeout the coaches told the players "we've got one play left, give all you got, full speed, one and done."

"I tell you what, we had a good feeling for what they were going to do, they were going to put the ball in Relf's hands on that last play," said defensive coordinator Ted Roof. "The kids did a heck of a job."

While Auburn's defense stepped up when the game was on the line, it still surrendered 531 yards, including 333 yards on the ground.

"There were some really great things that happened today, we played good in spurts," Roof said. "We weren't consistent, but at the end of the day, I think that says a lot about the heart and character of our kids to find a way to get the game-winning goal line stand.

"I mean you're talking about an inch, so proud of that, but we still obviously have a lot of work to do," the defensive coordinator added.

"If it comes down every week to us being on the field, hey, we're going to be prepared and ready for it," said sophomore safety Demetruce McNeal about the defense stopping Mississippi State on the last drive two years in a row. "So we're going to go into every game thinking, defense is going to win championships, defense wins championships.

"We're not going to fold," he added. "We're just going to bring everything we got to the table and stop anybody we can.

After a 35-yard touchdown run by Michael Dyer on its first possession, Auburn's defense got in on the act when McNeal snagged a deflected Relf pass and returned it 43 yards for a score.

"That was the first time I've ever returned an interception for a touchdown off of somebody's helmet," said McNeal, who also had eight tackles for the game. "Everybody was in the right spot.

"T'Sharvan Bell recognized the pass," McNeal said. "He was looking for the ball. He couldn't find it, but the ball found his helmet. Somehow, it just popped up in our favor, into may hands. Once I get the ball in my hands, it's just like high school-I'm thinking end zone. Hopefully, I can do it again sometime."

While Sanders has gotten a reputation as a big hitter on special teams, he said he is excited that he's able to help out on the defensive line this year.

"I feel like more of a contributor to the team," he said. "I helped out last year with special teams, but I wanted to help out this year with defense. I feel like I'm helping out more and more each game."

Sanders said there are lessons to be learned from the Tigers' last-minute wins the past two weeks. "Just never giving up," he said. "Always fighting to the end--I think that's what we do the best, too, all of us sticking together. It's a family thing, you know."


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