Put in the fire for the first time in his brief tenure as the Tigers' starting quarterback, Nick Marshall made play after play on Auburn's 12-play march to victory capped by an 11-yard touchdown pass to tight end C.J. Uzomah with 10 seconds remaining.
"This is the most exciting and unbelievable moment in my football career as a whole," said Uzomah, who noted that he grew up dreaming of such moments.
Auburn moved the length of the field in one minute and 46 seconds after taking over at its 12-yard line with with just one minute and 56 seconds and two timeouts left.
Marshall accounted for all but three yards on the drive with either his arms or legs. He hit 6-8 passes for 66 yards with four for passes for 35 yards to freshman Marcus Davis and a 17-yarder to Jaylon Denson.
Marshall ran the ball three times for 19 yards, including an 11-yard run on third down and 10 at the MSU 25 to set up the game-winning pass to Uzomah.
"I just tried to take what they gave," Marshall said, noting that successfully executing the game-winning drive "builds my confidence way high."
Nick Marshall runs on the final drive as Auburn improved its record to 3-0 while the Bulldogs fell to 1-2.
Auburn's late heroics were set up by a defense that was reeling in the second quarter and the opening drive of the third period trying to stop the running of MSU quarterback Dak Prescott.
The Tigers finally got Prescott under control and didn't allow the visitors to score in the fourth period while the Auburn offense was trying to get its act together on a night the Tigers were minus three in turnovers and struggling to run the football.
Averaging 298 rushing yards per game, the Tigers netted just 120 to go with 339 yards through the air.
The Bulldogs were out-gained 459-419 by the Tigers, but finished the night with 213 ground yards, which was almost the difference in the game.
"We talked before the game that it could come down to the end," said Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn. "A lot of these games against Mississippi State have come down to the end and I said, ‘Guys, we need to find a way to win,' and I'm very proud of the way they did that.
"Our offense sputtered at times in the second half, but they went 88 yards with 1:56 on the clock, found a way to get in the end zone. Very proud of our defense--they had some big stops there in the second half.
"Overall it's just a great win and the crowd was awesome," Malzahn added. "The crowd helped us just win that game especially in the fourth quarter and it was really fun to be a part of it."
Star of the Game, Offense:
Nick Marshall hit 23-34 passes for 339 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 22 more yards. He also caught his own pass off a deflection to finish the night with 398 all-purpose yards.
Star of the Game, Defense
Dee Ford made his season debut after missing the first two games with a knee injury. He overcame a self-described "rusty start" that included a missed tackle on an MSU touchdown and stepped up and helped the Tigers win with six tackles in a reserve role.
First Half Scoring:
The Tigers lost the toss and got the ball first after Mississippi State deferred. The Tigers moved 52 yards on 11 plays before settling on a 40-yard field goal by Cody Parkey as Malzahn's team came out playing more quickly on offense than in the previous two games.
The Bulldogs looked like they would match Auburn's three points on their opening possession, but a 35-yard field goal by Devon Bell was wide right.
The Tigers didn't waste much time in extending the lead to 11-0. Three plays into the possession Nick Marshall found wide receiver Quan Bray uncovered on a sideline route. The only defender in the area slipped and Bray ran into the end zone untouched on a 76-yard play.
Quan Bray scores for the Tigers.
Malzahn went into his bag of tricks early like he did on the opening touchdown of the season. With the Tigers lining up in a spread formation on the PAT play, holder Ryan White took the snap and took a step toward the line of scrimmage before passing to Brandon Fulse for a two-point conversion. White, a former high school quarterback, threw a perfect pass to the tight end who made the catch in the back of the end zone.
White's miscue led to the first points for the Bulldogs. Playing cornerback on the first play after the kickoff, he broke toward the line of scrimmage as receiver Robert Johnson ran past the senior. Jonathon Mincy made the tackle, but it was 61 yards down the field.
On the next play the Bulldogs scored on a 14-yard end around reverse Jameon Lewis with 4:09 left in opening quarter. Trailing 11-6, the Bulldogs tried a two-point conversion on a run by Nick Griffin that was stuffed well short of the goal line.
The Tigers held the ball for 13 plays and moved 74 yards to stretch their lead to 14-6 after opting to kick a field goal on fourth and goal at the two-yard line.
Those were the last points of the half for the Tigers, who led 14-13 at intermission.
The Bulldogs scored their second touchdown on a third and goal run from five yards out when QB Dak Prescott broke free of a tackle attempt by Dee Ford with 5:02 left before intermission.
Halftime Numbers: The Bulldogs held a 242-217 advantage in total yards after two periods. the tigers managed just 62 rushing yards on 17 carries while the Bulldogs gained 90 yards on 19 carries.
Nick Marshall was 10-16 passing in the half for 155 yards. He threw on interception on a Hail Mary toss on the final play before halftime. That was the only turnover of the half. Prescott hit 9-17 passes for 152 yards.
Second Half Scoring:
The Bulldogs scored with ease to start the third quarter, moving 75 yards on just six plays. The Tigers struggled to stop the quarterback keeper on the drive and not surprisingly on first and goal at the two Prescott kept the ball and ran up the middle for the Bulldogs' third touchdown and a 20-14 lead.
Auburn's first possession was aided by a deflected pass that Marshall caught himself and ran down the sidelines for a 37-yard gain.
The Tigers had to settle for a 47-yard field goal with 9:53 left to cut the lead to 20-17.
There was plenty of drama the rest of the evening with big plays on third downs and key stops, but neither team could break through with more points until Uzomah's touchdown catch on a perfectly thrown pass by Marshall.
"We run that route every day in practice," the quarterback said. "Coach Malzahn believed in me and I believed in C.J."
The victory was the first in an SEC game for the Tigers since the 2011 season, ending a streak that had lasted 10 games. "It is a great feeling for me to get that first SEC win," Marshall said.
Wounded Tigers: Starting cornerback Chris Davis, who limped off the field last Saturday night favoring his foot, served as game captain with Reese Dismukes but was not dressed out to play.
MSU head coach Dan Mullen said, "It was a very disappointing loss for us. I give Auburn credit, their kids made plays to win the game. We did not. We did not make the plays, we did not make the calls as coaches to get our kids in the right situations to call the plays and to make our kids win the game.
"We had plenty of opportunities," he added, "I thought our guys played hard. We did some really good things but we needed to make a play and we did not when we had the ball.
"A couple times in the fourth quarter we had opportunities to score and we knew we needed one more touchdown all through the fourth quarter. We kept saying that. We had some good drives, some good opportunities, some penalties, some mistakes and some other things that put us behind. We just did not make the plays we needed to win."
Stat Of the Night:
Mississippi State ended the third quarter with 346 yards on 50 plays. In the fourth quarter the Bulldogs were only able to add 69 more yards on 18 plays.
Last But Not Least:
Defensive end Ford said it was fun to see his team rally for a victory. "That was exactly what we needed," the senior said. "It was good for our confidence," he added, pointing out it was "truly a team victory."